Thursday, August 28, 2008

America is Babylon--a brief review of Rob Bell and Don Golden's new book

This morning I finished an advanced copy of Rob Bell and Don Golden's new book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile.

You can read it in a couple of ours. It's quick and simple. The cover is the box-game we played in elementary school. Based on the retro-hip cover, I had no idea what to expect inside.

Let me say up front that I know Bell has helped a lot of people. He has many, many fans, largely emergent culture folks and new believers. He inspires. His Nooma videos are ubiquitous. And while I see his bio lists him as founding pastor of Mars Hill (is that past tense? Or is he still a pastor?), he's well connected with the mega-church. For my own part, I've seen probably two Nooma videos, listened to three sermons and only now have read one book. He's a peer and I am not his target audience. So while the people we influence overlap, we don't spend much time influencing each other (yet).

I don't know Don Golden. Maybe one day.

I read this book because I know many I converse with will be asking me questions about it. Better get a head-start. I still need to read The Shack for the same reason (see my wife's review of The Shack).

The exile Christians are in, says the book, is an exile to an empire. And the authors are calling those who follow Jesus to find a way out. Jesus wants to save us from it. This empire is America and Western cultural and the ease by which we get our fundamental needs and oppress others. The authors take 2/3 of the book to lead us to the doorstep of this thesis.

I don't know how much of this book is Bell and how much is Golden. I've seen marketing where a lesser-known will get some input from a well-known and then the book gets made with the well-known, who contributed less, as the lead name. It happens all the time in publishing (just to give you an insider's heads-up). This book could be an exception where both contributed equally.

The book targets conservative evangelicals who equate America with the Kingdom of God and have never challenged the inconsistency of that. Though this topic has grown quite common, Bell and Golden give it a fresh spin.

Tracing through the Old Testament, the authors show how empire wrecks people. It oppresses the poor. It becomes, in a sense, it's own god. From the Fall to Babel to Egypt to Sinai to Jerusalem to Babylon to Jerusalem again to Roman occupation. And in every place, God is calling his people to help the poor and refuse to be an empire. An empire, in essence, is 'anti-kingdom.'

Much of this book I agree with: the reason humans are made, the Jewish story, the exiling of the Jewish people, the point of the commandments, the demise of proud kings, the coming of Jesus, the end of the whole story in a New Earth, the problem of oppression, human conquest, our ugly pathway toward deity. Speaking on the road, I've had folks from time to time approach me informing me that some of the things I share sound like Bell. It's usually a compliment... and the coincidence I chalk up to the Holy Spirit who shines the light of truth from multiple voices for such a time as this.

The authors make tough concepts simpler. There are phrases in this book all along the way that are helpful and good for the uninformed believer to jump in and see the story of Scripture, particularly the Hebrew Scriptures which are easily neglected in conservative evangelicalism. That's not to say evangelicals do not grab truth from the Hebrew Scriptures; rather, they do so usually only to fit it into a disconnected apostolic (New Testament) paradigm.

I appreciate how the authors draw in Jewish thought in the majority of this book and how they spotlight what it means to help the oppressed and repair the world.

Several aspects of this book were nagging and there's no good writing a review that is all clouds and halos.

The writing style is simple (I can't remember reading words over three syllables) and the paragraph style choppy. If you are looking to improve your writing, a book like this one does not help. It relies on rhetorical devices rather than classic structure. From early pages, I thought I was reading Gene Edwards, who makes regular paragraphs out of single sentences, phrases, and even fragmented words. This is all visual effect. It holds the readers hand to aid him in how to pause in the reading.

I tried this writing style once in creative writing class in college. My teacher wrote on my paper: "Tell the story; don't rely on devices." Ouch.

Considering the era we live in, these devices may say more about the modern reader than it does about these authors.

The authors sometimes make too much of symbolism and metaphor, on occasions stretching it potentially beyond the reach of Scripture. One thing that makes me cautious is how neat and tidy all these symbols and metaphors are. If you don't have a knowledge of Scripture and other point of view, you'll find their approach tight and leading you to think only way on some of these things.

The authors follow New Exodus theology. From the best I can make of it, it is the way God is always calling his people out from empire into his kingdom, showing the world what he's like all along the way. The authors demonstrate this well, but once we get to the Messianic Scriptures (the New Testament), the authors hold the view that the Jews no longer have a special place in God's redemptive history. They don't say this explicitly. They just say Jews and Gentiles now form a 'new humanity.' I wanted to see what happened to the Jews in this paradigm.

I also wanted to see what kind of self-rule the authors would set up if we did follow the principle. It's not enough to leave Egypt. You must also establish a new society.

They mention how gentiles were excluded from the Temple, but I'm guessing this is the second temple (and they exclude Jewish history that built the second temple and how God helped the Jews through that time). Jesus criticized the Jews for not allowing all the nations into the temple. So some of the new covenant and the new humanity that the authors speak of was already available in the Hebrew Scriptures. Items like these continues to fertilize the popular idea that the New Testament replaces the Old rather than continues the same story along the same trajectory. I have a hard time saying Jesus reach was broader than Jehovah's... I mean, salvation has come through the Jews, and Jesus, just like Jehovah, called everyone in to reconcile the world to himself. Jesus came as an unfolding part of that story, spilling Jewish blood to save the world. I don't see a changed message but a more complete one.

Also, the authors' view of Revelation is not an end-times view held by many conservative evangelicals. They interpret it as an event that has already happened to Christians under Roman persecution. This may bother some. Not me.

One chapter in the book, which is the real point of the book, is how America is empire not too distant from Babylon. The book turns polemic with Bell's statistical tidal wave about how much America has to the rest of the world and how little we do to alleviate suffering. None of this is new. People have been researching and informing us of this for years and years. I get weary of the statistics, in part, because they can pure rhetoric when removed from their context. American's make more money but American's also spend more money on daily needs. We can help AIDS in Africa, but what do we do to help our own communities? What is more, Americans outgive the rest of the world in relief efforts, something few if any empires have done unless they owned the property themselves. I knew people who make, in world's standards, quite a bit of money, but are constantly living on the edge of feeding their family and giving them a good education, paying insurances, taxes, and on and on. One day our leaders may discover that many are not motivated by statistical rhetoric as much as we are motivated by example, watching needs be met and being invited to help those needs. This is where Shane Claiborne outshines most evangelical spokespeople on this issue.

If you're looking for an evangelical motivation to help the oppressed and how it is done, read Shane. If you want a theology of Scripture about how God reaches the oppressed and how quickly we fall when we lose dependence on him (and if you haven't read the Bible yourself and found this to be true), then grab Bell and Golden's book and give it a good run through. Then, be excited to read your Bible with fresh eyes.

And if you want to see how the church has done this through the centuries, even in the American empire, step outside of modern evangelicalism a bit and look around. The Quakers are a good start. Let's not make the mistake that evangelicalism is THE church, though many evangelicals have risen to the occassion from time to time (we can thank our fundamentalist roots for segregating us from culture and from relief efforts that align us too closely with those preaching the 'social gospel'). Bell and Golden are trying to uproot, in a good way, some of those roots.

I'm troubled when the authors oversimplify problems, like saying the only reason we are in the middle-east is for oil. Sometimes they sound like a political sound-byte in these pages (well, a manifesto is supposed to be political, so maybe that's why it sounds political! :)). It feels more emotional and uninformed than a real education into what is really going on. No one will doubt that America has empire-like attributes in recent years, but it has been unlike most empires in world history. This isn't noted much, if at all. And they don't separate out the American people from poor leadership (just like we shouldn't curse all the Jews because a few rotten Jewish leaders crucified Jesus). We need less head-wagging and finger-pointing. There seems to be two sides among evangelicals today: those who fly the American flag as they wave their Bible and those who are suspicious of America because, as a country, we've done some damage. I'd like to see more tension between the two as builders of God's Kingdom but also citizenry with a voice in a democratic republic.

Oversimplifying issues may cause us to oversimplify solutions and leave many enthusiastic but unempowered.

The footnotes are the place the authors get casual. This kind of casualness in writing is growing more popular but it feels like another modern device. Do these authors really want to be that close of a friend to me as a reader? If so, why not give an email address so we can do that lunch? I would have liked to see the writing style here offer an invitation for real connection.

A final point is that Bell and Golden say you cannot market or make a trend out of an authentic kingdom life. But it seems that this is what's happening. This will be a trend and that's probably something that cannot be avoided. That these men have a vehicle of a mega-church to sell books furthers the illustration (and publishers like mega-pastors writing books because the first 10,000 sales are a given... and then word spreads).

So while I want to believe the church can't be marketed, I would rather hear it more from those who aren't in the larger evangelical system. It's too convenient. I want to hear grass-roots creatives who do things in quiet places among quiet conversations and away from the dazzling lights.

That's why I recommend reading grass-roots creatives than evangelical superstars. And, I have a hunch that these authors would be glad a book like this motivated you to do the same (they do quote Anne Lamott!).

Now that I've finished the book, I still don't understand the cover...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 16 of 16)

Summary and Conclusion

We have looked with fresh eyes at this passage in Ephesians 5, conclusions I’m still learning to understand. Yet at this point in my journey, I notice the profound desire of God’s heart for all followers of the Messiah to submit one to another, even in marriage. I know it’s daring and often culturally unacceptable, especially my evangelical tradition. And I know it takes courage.

Yet Paul shows us what this mutual submission looks like. Using the metaphor of the head and body, Paul paints for us a picture that is easily overlooked with a dead metaphor. In that picture we see the Messiah as the Savior of life for the body of the church. The wife is to submit to that kind of life in vulnerability. The husband is also to offer his life, seen through vivid pictures of the Savior’s love to the church in love, washing our feet, laying down his life, submitting to the cross to bear our sin. The husband offers his life in the everyday things, even to the point of death, so that his wife may flourish. In so doing, both husband and wife ultimately receive life and guidance as one flesh from their spiritual authority and mediator, Jesus Christ.

The mystery of submission in marriage is one with continual deferment to one another, in humility and respect and honor and love. Neither the husband is independent of his wife nor the wife of her husband (1 Cor 11:11). The Messiah is their ultimate fountain of life and goodness. And as they draw on him, out of reverence for him, they submit to one another. I’m learning more every day how to press into this mystery and how broad love goes. This mystery is revealed in Jesus, and we are invited to walk into it.

Thanks for your patience in reading this series. All comments welcome!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 15 of 16)

Love and Respect

The last verse in our section, verse 33, reads like this, However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Many popular marriage lecturers capitalize on this verse. They even say that a woman’s greatest need is “love” and a man’s greatest need is “respect.” And they quote this verse and call these gender “needs” a Biblical idea.

But look at the verse. Does it say this is a man’s need or a woman’s need? No, Paul is admonishing them to love and to respect. We ask, “Why does Paul say this?” It is an important question, but we must be careful our answer is consistent with Scripture. Some believe Paul says it because this is how men and women are wired. But the implications of that explanation are not justified in the context. [1]

I believe the context is telling us that this final verse on marriage is a summary verse. It includes both the wives and the husbands together. And the verses that follow go into instructions for children and parenting.

When a woman submits, it is respectful (but that doesn’t mean it lacks love). And when a man submits, it is loving (but that doesn’t mean it lacks respect). I think this verse, like those before it, shows us descriptions of submission, though not an exhaustive list.

Paul might even be highlighting the very struggle of Ephesian husbands and wives. When this letter was read, I can imagine the inner struggle and the gasps in the assembly as they saw how deeply sacrificial the life of God goes:

“Respect my husband?” the wives say. “I’m the spiritually astute one and the goddess Artemis says so! I can’t give that up! I’m good at going behind backs and manipulating to get my way! I might look submissive on the outside, but I’m stubborn on the inside.”

“Love my wife? Are you kidding?” the husbands say. “I own her! I can’t lay down my life. That degrades my status and undermines my authoritative position in the home. If I lay my life down, who will take care of her? Only a commander can; not a dying savior.”

Yet we cannot dance around Paul’s words. He’s clear and consistent with the gospel of Jesus our Messiah. We stand on equal footing in marriage, under one authority, in the Kingdom of God. And out of that we submit to one another with love and respect out of reference for Jesus, our Savior and King.

I will offer some concluding remarks in the final post, coming next.

[1] Love is a human need, not just a womanly need. One simple example will suffice: When Jesus said, “God so loved the world…” it wasn’t just women’s needs for love that he died for. All humans need connection to him and to each other. All humans need love. All humans are bankrupt without it and it is one of the grandest themes in Scripture (cf. 1 Cor 13 which is written for men and women) and is even included in Ephesians 5 prior to our section (see vs. 13-15.) To say “love” is only a womanly need grossly misses the point.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 14 of 16)

Verse 32 reads, This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Regardless of how we interpret this, it must fit into the message of “submit to one another” that we’ve seen already. Some believe Paul refers to the purpose of marriage as being, from the beginning, a picture of Christ and the church. I am reluctant to accept that based on these reasons:

1) Marriage was given before the Fall where God’s initial intention was not to establish an assembly of people apart from the world. All the world loved him.

2) If church is an “assembly of believers” in an informal sense (which I believe it is with qualification) then even Adam and Eve were an assembly before the Fall. Their marriage wouldn’t be needed to represent their relationship with God, since they already had a relationship with God.

3) God did not say “man was alone” because he was thinking that Messiah needed more people in his church. “Man was alone” because man was actually alone and needed a companion. This parallel doesn’t work with the Messiah as he wasn’t alone and in need of a companion. The Holy Trinity is infinite companionship already.

4) Marriage is a good thing in itself. That it is a parallel picture of Christ and the church does not negate that marriage is intrinsically good and ordained by God for its own sake.

I think Paul is getting at something else here. I think he is getting at the mystery of marriage as well as the mystery of the church. Both are born in the heart and mind of a God who loves. That humans have a union of one flesh is a mystery that God revealed in Eve. That God loves rebel humans and unites them with himself through the Jewish people is also a mystery that God revealed in the Messiah. In Scripture, mystery doesn’t usually mean “something difficult to understand.” It usually carries a definition of “something we didn’t know about, but now we do.” If we said “revealed secret,” in place of “mystery,” we’ll be close to its meaning. Both the marriage of husband and wife and the marriage of Messiah and the church are mysteries or revealed secrets.

The way marriage points to Christ and the church, as far as I see it, is that humans were made for communion, just as God exists in communion within the Trinity. Community among humans is one way we are made in God’s image. Perhaps Paul highlights the mystery of Christ and the church, beyond the mystery of marriage, because God‘s purposes of pure love in marriage is being redeemed again through the Messiah, his work, and his resurrected life.

Notice, just like with the wives, no mention is given to the “roles” of the husband. He is to lay his life down (though elsewhere in Scripture the woman is to do the same, for the greatest love is to lay your life down for your friends—John 15:13). No mention of authority is given or protecting and providing roles. Only serving, deferment, and love. Based on what I read in this passage, it is quite unclear to me what a husband is “in charge of” in marriage. What I see is that he is to ensure his wife is treated supremely by him, even if it means losing his own head. When the wife submits to the husbands love, the mutual vulnerability paints the only portrait God gave us of what the Trinity is like. Yet in the church today, much energy is placed on the need for “authority” for a marriage to work. Paul, however, emphasizes without confusion or debate that the recipe for a well-ordered marriage is love. We would do well to explore joyfully all the implications of love, of which there is much evidence than to preclude that reward with a culturally-driven need to emphasize “authority” of which there is little evidence.

Next up: a look at the currently popular passage on "love and respect."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 13 of 16)

The Husband's Body

Verse 28-31, In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."

See how Paul does not mince words over what husbandly submission looks like! Messiah submitted himself to the mission, to the cross, to our sin, to our livelihood. He washed our feet. He calls us siblings and says that our Father is his Father. He came down to bring us up, to raise us to the very highest place of humanity.

Notice what Paul says next by playing on the word “body.” He said husbands are to love their wives as they love their own bodies, echoing the second commandment of loving neighbor as oneself. Again, this submission runs deep in the home. Paul speaks of the husband’s literal body, and then turns it into the larger metaphor of the church body, meaning the assembly of believers.

When talking to wives, Paul accentuated the “head.” Talking to husbands, he accentuates the “body.” But, again, this isn’t “authority” over the body, but giving life to the body. The husband gives life to his wife by loving her as his own body, serving her, not demanding sex to meet his own needs, not throwing his weight around, not belittling, not the boss. Rather, he is gentle, kind, loving, peaceful, looking out for her interests (read Gal 5:22-23—the fruit of the Spirit). This gives life. Christ does the same with the church, his “body.” While the parallel of the wife and the church are not “exact,” it is close enough. Metaphors can never be exact. Jesus is the vine means Jesus is our source of life, but if the metaphor were exact then Jesus would be green and twiggy, too.

Continuing the discussion, Paul turns to the very first marriage in Scripture: Adam and Eve. He quotes Genesis 2:24 and tells us that the man’s body and the woman’s body are seen as “one flesh.” [1] This ancient passage informs Paul’s idea that a husband is to love his wife as he loves his own body. It is grounded in the Garden of Eden before the Fall when the unbroken way was all perfect submission as “one flesh.” One flesh is one that cannot be divided. One flesh is harmonious. One flesh is a metaphor of not knowing where one ends and the other begins. One flesh is one entity, not two entities lording over the other, not one side of the flesh controlling the other. Jesus said that no one should put asunder what God has put together (Matt 19:5-6). Yet asunder is what happens when one spouse is rendered less important than the other.
The next phrase in this section seems a bit out of place at first.

In my next post, we'll look at the "profound mystery."

[1] Note that in the story of Creation and the Fall in Genesis 1-3 that there is no mention of the man being in “authority” over the women until God declares judgment on them. If “authority” over the woman was always part of the design for man, then it wouldn’t be declared a judgment. Is Paul noting that Messiah has undone this judgment like he has undone the judgment of death? Is he following Jesus tradition that we ought to look to the Garden of Eden for our model of marriage? (Mark 10:1-12)

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 12 of 16)

The Work of Messiah

Verse 26-27, …To make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

This is the work of Jesus on the cross. Yet I’ve heard respected pastors use this section as a husband’s responsibility in marriage. Assuming “head” means “authority” they will say it is the husband’s job to sanctify or make his wife holy, almost as a priestly representative mediating between God and wife.

This explanation is very difficult to believe for this one reason alone: If the wife is part of the church, then she is already washed by Jesus. She doesn’t need to be washed by her husband too. Is Paul describing for the one and only time in Scripture that women particularly need a “double-washing”? If it is the husband’s job to purify his bride then

1) unmarried women are less pure because they have no husband to do this, or

2) unmarried women are more pure because Christ is their direct purifier and isn’t interrupted by a fallen human husband, and

3) it renders the atonement of Christ as suspiciously lacking in thorough effectiveness.

Take your pick. None of those options make any sense when compared to the rest of Scripture. We don’t want to twist our understanding of Redemption out of motivation to retain our cultural rules about marriage.

Some will note that marriage does sharpen us, help us overcome our defects of character. It has often been said that marriage is a great sanctifier! No doubt this is true, and even more true with children! But it goes both ways. A woman who walks with Jesus will sharpen her husband as much as a husband who walks with Jesus will sharpen his wife. And we must do away with any idea about a husband having a priestly office in the home. There is only one mediator between God and humans, Jesus the Messiah (1 Tim 2:5).

It is clearest to me to read this description of the Messiah’s work in verses 26-27 as showing how far he will go in his love for us. It is the preeminent example for husbands in loving their wives. It’s the deepest submission to constantly lay down one’s life.

The next verses continue this idea of submitting one’s life in love.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Free iPods at University

The New York times published this piece yesterday: "Welcome, Freshman. Haven an iPod."

Apparently, student cell phones and laptop computers aren't enough of a distraction. They need iPods, too, to satiate the endless consumer appetite to be entertained. I still believe music is the drug of choice in the West. And in a place, like University, which traditionally is for soul-building and a retreat from life's distractions to gain knowledge and wisdom, this article is saddening. More souls in need of Soulation....

The article is worth your reflection. For instance, see this paragraph:

“When it gets a little boring, I might pull it out,” acknowledged Naomi J. Pugh, a first-year student at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., referring to her new iPod Touch, which can connect to the Internet over a campus wireless network. She speculated that professors might try harder to make classes interesting if they were competing with the devices.
I've been informed that Naomi's comment was made in jest and removed from it's original context for the sake of the author's rhetorically driving the point (a common problem of dishonest journalism akin to the vice he denounces). That Naimi sounds like many typical freshman is unfortunate. Many students have developed the habit of believing that information must be entertainment. Yet so often knowledge will not come in entertaining ways. Making a class more 'interesting' should not be a requirement for students to learn what it means to lead (not consume) in the 21st century. It would serve us to cultivate learning, even from boring professors, because this is what a virtuous, flourishing, appropriately human person does. These are the the kinds of students who grow up to make a difference.

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 11 of 16)

Masculine culture and love

Love and sacrifice give life. The metaphor stretches the text too much for me if “head” is “authority.” A true “authority” must always protect himself, seal up the vulnerable cracks, put up the best defenses, and refrain from showing any weakness. It would be foolish for the commander to spend his time serving the troops when he should be strategizing against the enemy. We don’t put the President on the front line in battle; instead we surround him with secret service. Paul is saying the honorable head must lay down his life, to offer life to his bride, just as Messiah offered his life for the church. He emphasizes more than anything else that love, not authority or leadership, is the recipe of a healthy marriage.

The Messiah could lay his life down because there was a Commander overseeing the whole affair, his Father. And this same freedom to lay our lives down is available to husbands, for this Commander is still at the helm of this world. Jesus’ work as “Savior,” not Lord, is the analogy for the husband.

As I’ve taken time to meditate on these passages, the pieces start coming together for me on what the Kingdom of God looks like when lived out.

Then suddenly in verse 26, Paul paints a portrait of what the Savior’s love looks like by explaining what the Messiah did for the church.

We'll start looking at what Messiah did and how this relates to the husband... coming next.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 10 of 16)

Masculine culture

Men jab at each other, “Who wears the pants in your family?” Or “Get your wife under control?” Or they often think to themselves, “I don’t want to look weak in front of the other guys!” Once when I was renting a trailer, I stopped by the depot to pick it up. The gruff and greasy owner of the shop sent his dolled up girlfriend out to get my information. In her tight shirt and blonde hair, she played ditzy which was what her boyfriend wanted. Then back in the shop, the owner turned to his daughters (I presumed) in their late teens hanging around a mechanics shop, and asked them if they wanted to go with me. Trying to avoid conflict with an aggressive man, I simply said that I was traveling with my wife. He quipped back, “Well, some guys can handle two girls and some can only handle one.”

These are the games many men play, fronting a pagan view of masculinity, surrounding themselves with women who will also play the game, demeaning women and showing their prowess over other men. Be on the lookout. This view of manhood is everywhere today in varying degrees. I once had a Christian leader tell me I need to be a man by keeping my wife in line! If you knew my wife and our marriage, you would see how this man was threatened by a competent woman treated fully human. This attitude isn’t the kind that submits one’s life. This isn’t the kind that loves. This view sees the love of the Messiah as “weak,” “sissy,” or “feminine.” [1]

When Jonalyn and I married, our friend, Jerry Root, shared with us an idea that we recited for our marriage vows. He called it “the high courtesy of heaven.” The theme throughout Scripture of this high courtesy is “giving my life for yours.” More than a willingness to put my life on the line when someone threatens my wife, it is learning to die daily. It is putting your own will aside. It is turning down one more Jeep accessory so my wife can hire someone to help clean the house before guests arrive. Giving my life for hers is my finding ways to serve her, like doing dishes, making the bed, vacuuming the house, paying the bills, so she is freed to use her skills and enjoy her hobbies too. It is organizing the office when I would rather leave it a mess—because I know it is what makes life less stressful for her. It is not complaining about the meals or requiring the meals suit the husband. Holding doors and pulling out chairs for women was born out of giving your life for someone else, rendering them of greater importance, treating them like royalty. The one who brings home the bacon must also be willing to cook it.

Today men often serve women so it will keep the peace or so that the woman will serve them in return. But that’s not love. The perpetual theme in the Bible is esteeming others more important than self (Phil 2:3-4) and to be willing “servants” to one another (Gal 5:13). And this nature of love slices both ways throughout the Scripture, only in this passage it is especially highlighted for husbands. If we have a difficult time imagining husbands loving in this way, submitting in this way, perhaps we need to consider with the Ephesians how much of the culture is still in us when it comes to submitting to one another in the church.

In the next post, I'll finish with observations on verse 25, with masculinity, the Messiah, and the nature of love.

[1] I hate how we use the words “masculine” and “feminine” as insults on one hand and as adjectives for activities and objects on the other. When someone says, “That guy is feminine,” it insults both the guy and all women everywhere. The same goes for describing things as “masculine.” These are two words we should hold with honor. They describe how a male and female bear the image of God together and reveal His qualities.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 9 of 16)

Details for Husbands

Paul turns from the wives and launches into details for husbands.

Verse 25 says, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...

Remember when I mentioned earlier that the culture was strongly patriarchal and that women were largely inferior to men across the Mediterranean world? Now imagine you are a man in that kind of culture. You have no problem with “submitting one to another,” especially if it is other men. But is Paul announcing here that you are supposed to submit to women in the church (v. 21)? That’s raises eyebrows in that culture and in his. [1] But this is what Paul is saying as he pushes the point to husbands. Even submit to the one you’re closest to, your wife—the one who knows your secrets and your vulnerabilities.

Only when I saw this passage as a whole did I begin to see that Paul’s admonition for husbands to love is also a form of submission. It’s what submission looks like in the Christian community. One of the struggles I had to overcome was to stop thinking Bible-versely and begin thinking Biblically. Bible verses are good but usually interrupt context and interfere with the meaning of the author. Thinking Biblically is stepping back and seeing the larger picture, seeing the writer’s words but only in light of his many sentences.

Don’t forget Paul’s thesis statement for this section, “Submit to one another out of reference for Christ.” He’s now going to tell the husbands what submission looks like for them in marriage. “Love your wives.” That’s the bombshell. Love your wives; will your wives’ good; seek to bring them life.

In Paul’s day, men were not expected to love their wives. They married them, viewed them as property, and used them for pleasure and procreation. Demosthenes of Greece put it this way, “Mistresses we keep for pleasure, concubines for daily attendance upon our person, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.” [2] Women were not equal to men in the Greco-Roman world. Even Aristotle put them as opposite to man as darkness is to light. But what kind of love is this that Jesus the Messiah brings to his followers in marriage? Romantic love? Flowers and candy? Holidays at the beach? No, he uses the deepest metaphor for love that Paul has in his tool bag, “…just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

What did the Son of God do for the church? Read Philippians 2. It started when he submitted freely of himself (there’s that idea again!) and became a servant in human form as the Messiah. And He vulnerably let himself be misunderstood everyday and ultimately destroyed by evil men. This is love.

Paul conjures up this image in the minds of husbands in Ephesus. Give your lives up. Submit freely of yourself. Be willing to be misunderstood and even wrongly treated. Give up your life for her, your reputation for her, your control of her. Think of the Messiah. Give her space to choose, to grow, to flourish. This is all included in giving up your life. It ran against the grain of the way these men were brought up from boyhood—strength, domination, control, power. [3]

We'll continue our look at verse 25 in the next post....

[1] I find it humorous when people say that today’s culture doesn’t like the idea of “submission” (as in obedience) and so they resist what Paul is saying. The irony is that yesterday’s culture did like submission (as in obedience) and Paul is working at dragging them out of it. If it was otherwise, Paul would say, “I commend you, church in Ephesians, for your expertly work on wifely submission (as in obedience), I see I don’t have to articulate it to you!”

[2] Demosthenes, “Against Neaera,” in The Orations, p. 9.

[3] As I analyze some men’s movements today (what I call the “new masculinity”) it sometimes reminds me—often in subtle ways—of those pagan cultures now resurfacing in the name of Jesus.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 8 of 16)

What is not here

Let me make a special observation about what is not in this Ephesians 5 instruction to women.

There is no mention of “roles” of wives nor reference to how wives are “wired.” Nothing about staying home with children or keeping house. No mention of a need for spiritual guidance for wives. No mention of decisions that women cannot handle or make. Not even a mention of weakness like we find mentioned elsewhere.[1]

We only find an attitude of humble submission to a life-giving head. If “head” could possibly mean “authority,” I find no notion of what that means in Paul’s view of marriage of a husband with authority. What are women prohibited from doing that would require a husband to keep her in check? Does the husband trump everything? Is the woman to stay at home? Or work out of the home? What about overseeing finances? Does care-giving the children fall more on the mother than the father? Is she unable to share truth from Scripture? What if there is disagreement? What prevails? The husband? Or their best individual understandings based on Scripture and the Spirit? What exactly are the wives not permitted to do or oversee in this text? There are no specifics; specifics show up when theologians and writers try to make these simple verses practical. The mystery of submission goes deep. We would do well to stay our focus. We step out of bounds, import our modern cultural lenses when put things in the Scripture that are not being said. [2]

For much of my life, I was told the Bible is the authority and the Bible assigns “roles” to men and women. Yet many today uphold the Bible as the authority but tack on what Jesus referred to as “traditions.” We must re-examine ourselves, our intentions, our thoughts. We may find sociological studies supporting our views, but let's not overlay them on God's word. Modern studies, unlike the Bible, usually come with expiration dates.

In summary of the details to wives, it is clear to me that to read “head” as “authority” is to read too much into the text, especially with Paul’s understanding of “submission to one another” and his understanding of “savior.” The section on what submission looks like for a wife in marriage is short, filled with metaphors of life and gives us pictures consistent with the meanings of Paul’s original thesis: “submit to one another.”

[1] 1 Peter 3:7: Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. For more, see Jonalyn Grace Fincher’s, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home, page 109-113.

[2] Though some will find these examples bizarre, try generating some of your own examples and what you have seen imposed on women that are in the name of “submission” but are not in the text. I will not mention any titles, but there are numerous popular books today that bring in pop-psychology at this point, read into the text, share some anecdotal stories, interview statistics that are culturally laden, and then say this is what Scripture is teaching. As an apologist defending the faith, one of the pitfalls I try to be careful of—though am never immune—is importing assumptions in the text that have their origin in other places.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What do you think? Leading the new evangelical voter...

The headlines today are of McCain and Obama with Rick Warren at Saddleback in Orange County. I'm looking for opinion on the statement made below that jumped off the page at me.

The quotation below comes from this article.

'Rick Warren is at the forefront of a kind of younger generation of evangelical Protestant leaders who want to have a Christian public presence in the culture, but who are less tied to the Republican politics of their predecessors,' said Andrew Walsh, the associate director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, in Hartford. 'They're values-oriented guys, but less convinced that either their own principles or the best politics lies in a total commitment to the Republican Party.'

No doubt that younger evangelical voter is less Republican and more 'values-oriented.' I am (registered Independent). And I find this to be the general pulse of my generation and younger.

But is Rick Warren at the 'forefront'? Does my generation and younger look to him as a leader in this? Or is he more akin to our parents' generation?

What do you think?

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 7 of 16)

A Look at the Head (cont.)

Now apart from the meaning of “head,” Paul is comparing marriage to that of Messiah and the church. This is why wives should submit. Let’s look at this verse through the comparison Paul is making. How does the church submit to the Messiah, her head? When we understand this, we will have a better picture of what submission for a wife looks like.

Paul highlighting a certain relationship. Just saying “Christ is the head of the church” leaves the word “head” unclear. But Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. He adds one of the titles of the Messiah on the end of the phrase. He doesn’t say, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the mediator.” Nor does he say, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the master.” He calls the Messiah those titles in other places, so the concepts are available to him.

Rather, Paul says, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.”[1] Savior is not an “authority” position. It is the position of the deliverer, the one who rescues, the one who gives his life as a ransom for many. A savior may be a soldier in the field who comes to rescue you, but he isn’t your superior.[2] It is the Savior who gives life by giving his life. Because Christ is the “Savior,” this informs more accurately the honor of the “head.” “Submit to one another” and then “wives to husbands” does not carry the idea of under authority, but under humility.[3]

This meaning is further allowed since Paul never commands wives to “obey” their husbands. In the context that follows, children “obey” (Eph 6:1) and slaves “obey” (Eph 6:5) but wives are neither to be treated like children nor like slaves. Practically speaking, when a husband views his wife as inferior, as someone to do chores, wear certain clothes, and stay out of financial control, he’s treating her as a child. When he demands obedience, that’s parental behavior, not husbandly behavior.

Or when he expects her to wait on him, to care for all his needs, to exist to serve him, to do the menial jobs as he does the important ones, that is treating her as a slave. When he believes cooking or cleaning or work around the house is beneath him, that’s masterly behavior, not husbandly behavior.

Paul is saying wives are to submit to the vulnerability of the husband, the life symbolically poured out for her in Adam (when God took from his side to make Woman) as well as the vulnerability of giving himself in the day to day. This isn’t a matter of obedience to authority. It isn’t a matter of creating “order” in the home. No, it is a receiving of life and goodness, not to be trampled, gossiped about over tea, or nagged. Without submission, wives cannot receive their husband’s vulnerability.

This is exactly how each person comes to the Savior, receiving his life in humility and submitting to his vulnerable atonement. The Messiah doesn’t demand we be atoned.[4] We just lose it if we fail to take it as the fountain of life itself. People who do not understand the texture of love will miss the beauty of this dance.

Notice the word-play of “savior” with “submission” and “head.” Let the text inform the meaning. This is not a passage on who is in charge. This is a passage on who is in love.

If we live in the metaphor we find that husbands are to create a life-giving environment for the woman to thrive. As the Savior gives live to the church, his body, so a husband ought to give life to his bride. In this environment, a woman freely submits of herself in everything. [5]

This use of “Savior” foreshadows what Paul will illustrate to husbands.

The next post will highlight what is NOT in these verses on submission that are often inserted.

[1] Even strong subordinationists will divide the characteristics of Jesus and assign them to the gender: they say women should be like Jesus in their submission and men should be like Jesus in their lordship. While I disagree with these distinctions, I only put this out to show that everyone agrees it is far to separate out the characteristics of the Messiah.

[2] I’m not saying Jesus is not superior to the church. What I am saying is that Paul is not highlighting here that aspect of the Messiah. He’s highlighting the aspect that is an analogy to husbands and wives.

[3] Note that Paul is using the same phrase as he used with another church in Colossians in 1:17-18—which also does not mean “authority.” Paul is telling the same thing to the Ephesians. To say “head” means “authority” here is to swim upstream against the context and Paul’s use of this phrase elsewhere.

[4] Some theological positions on “election” say he does demand certain persons to be atoned. I find this view inconsistent with the whole of Scripture and supplanting “election” from the Jewish people.

[5] Because the question inevitably comes up, I don’t think Paul is teaching here that a woman submits to abuses. If “head” carries the meanings of honor, we can see that a woman can only submit when a husband is acting honorably, as the life-giving lover that he is designed to be.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 6)

Continued from here.

A Look at the Head

Verse 23-24 reads, For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Paul is expanding his reasons on what “submission” looks like and why it is good. The common knee-jerk interpretation is that this verse teaches husbands are leaders of their wives. But a few observations are in order.

“Head” is a metaphor. And, sadly, it’s a dead metaphor today. What is a dead metaphor? It is a word that no longer conjures up an image. We assign meanings to it because we’ve heard it so often. If I said, “I’m hitting the road,” that dead metaphor would only mean, “I’m driving away.” But if the metaphor were alive, we would think up a picture of someone going out to pound the asphalt. [1]

Live metaphors create pictures for us. “The Lord is my rock,” is a live Biblical metaphor as we think of a rock and its qualities that are similar to God. So when we see that the husband is the “head” of the wife, we need to first think about the metaphorical picture before we jump to conclusions. The picture here would be of a head on a body. And if the head is removed from the body three things happen: the head dies and the body dies and the union dies. The picture shows us that the body needs the head and the head needs the body. They cannot exist if the two were not dependent on each other. This is living in the metaphor.

It is overwhelmingly agreed upon by theologians on every side of the debate that “head” in Greek does not carry the same meaning as “head” in English. If we cram our English meanings into the text, we will miss the point. In English, “head” most commonly connotes “authority” and that’s how we often use the word. When we think of “head of state,” we think of the one in charge of the country. Yet in English, we have another meaning for the metaphor “head.” My father-in-law once took a canoe expedition down from the headwaters of the Missouri river. Here we see a lesser used meaning of the metaphor “head” in English: headwaters. When we talk about the “head” of the waters, we aren’t talking about the “authority” of one part of the river over another. We talk about the “source” or “origin” or “beginning” or “first” of the river. Another use is when a situation has reversed, when something on top gets put on the bottom; we say it was “turned on its head.”

What if the Greek word for “head” also carried additional meanings we don’t use in English? Many scholars note that “authority” and “source” are actually rare interpretations of “head” in Greek literature. While there is still much research to be done, it is likely, “head” for Paul carries the meaning of “honor,” more than anything else. [2]

[1] I borrow this idea from an excellent discussion on live and dead metaphors in How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Mark L. Strauss.
[2] Look at 1 Corinthians 11 and see how intertwined honor is with the word “head.” For a survey of the last 30 years of scholarship on this, see “A Meta-Study of the Debate Over the Meaning of "Head" (Kephale) in Paul's Writings” by Alan Johnson in Pricilla Papers, Autumn 2006.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 5 of 16)

Continued from here.

Cultural Background

Let’s get a little historical background before we move forward. The goddess Artemis reined in Ephesus. Her followers built one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, located within 30 miles the city. This temple was a key part of their geography and culture.[1] If you had visited Ephesus in those days, you would have identified right away the religion of the region, much the same way you see the minarets in Istanbul and know immediately Islam is a major presence.

Artemis was born first and delivered her twin brother Apollo; she saved women in child-bearing[2]; and she taught that women were spiritually superior to men. This created tension between the men and women of the culture. Where the women flaunted their prowess before men, like Artemis did before the gods, imagine how dramatic Paul’s words would have been. “Submit of yourselves as you do to the Lord.” Do it freely. Do it willingly. Go against the cultural grain. You belong to the Messiah now and his kingdom and his way of abundant life.

Some argue women are wired to submit to a man and they will use verse 22 to support it. Interview women and you might hear sardonic laughter and an insistence of the opposite! Even so, Paul rarely instructs believers to do anything that comes naturally. Saying he instructs them to do something naturally is about as redundant as someone commanding you to breathe. Breathing comes naturally. Submission doesn’t come naturally to any fallen human.

Now the Greek world was also patriarchal. Men were generally 10-15 years older than their wives and were providers for them in that society. Men owned private property, including their wives, were viewed as physically, intellectually, financially superior, and were the strength and glory of the family heritage.

Coming up... what does it mean to be the "head"...

[1] Acts 19 illustrates how entrenched Artemis was in the cultural imagination in Ephesians.
[2] Paul admonished believers in Ephesus that Messiah, not Artemis, was superior to saving women in childbearing (1 Tim 2:15).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 4 of 16)

Continued from here.

Details for Wives

So why does Paul continue writing details for wives after telling the church that submission is part of living in the Spirit? If it is obvious we are to submit to one another, why not just stop writing in verse 21? Why the specific instruction to wives? Well, as I read it, I think he’s showing how verse 21 is applied in marriage, in case some believe Kingdom living only happens when we gather. We will see how it applies to wives now, and then how it applies to husbands later.

Verse 22 says, Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

Wives are to “order under” their husbands. It is a posture of humility to defer to him, be associated with him. What is interesting is that “submit” is in the middle-voice, a voice not in English. We have passive voice in English, “The ball was hit.” We have active voice, “I hit the ball.” But middle voice is different. It is what is done to oneself, “The ball hit itself.” Wives are to take it upon themselves to submit; the submission is not to be enacted upon them, forcing them to comply. So while a commander of an army is to make his subordinates submit, this is not the case in marriage. Because God is our commander, we submit to one another, we choose to order ourselves under those we love, including wives to husbands.

I like that Paul adds the little word “own.” Wives are to submit to their own husbands. It may be easier to submit to other men in the assembly, men who you don’t have to live with, who don’t hurt you with their tone or disrespect. It’s always easier to be kind to people less intimate. So Paul adds a nice little detail. Submit of yourselves to the one who is closest to you, the one who is likely the most difficult to submit to: your own husband.[1]

I think it also reasonable to say Paul adds "own husband" here because he's moving from the plural "wives" to the singular. It could be confusing to say "wives submit to your husbands," allowing people to suggest that married women should submit to all married men. Instead, Paul clarifies, "own," and we are left with the picture of the matrimonial "one flesh" in tact.

The rest of the phrase carries a simile, or a comparative phrase, “as you do to the Lord.” This could be read several ways:

1) Submit to your husband in the same way you obey the Lord,

2) Submit to your husband for the reputation of the Lord (cf. Eph 6: 1, 7), or

3) Submit unto the Lord through submitting to your husband (like verse 21, out of “reverence for Christ”).

I think choice (1) goes against the character of the rest of the passage. Not only does it lean against the paradox of verse 21 where we are informed to “submit to one another,” but it curiously leaves out ideas of “obedience” to the husband as we have to the Lord, an obedience we find in the later context of children and slaves in Ephesians 6. Choice (2) and (3) work in relation to the rest of the passage, a throwback to our “reverence for Christ,” and also works with what we understand about God’s sovereignty and protective hand. When we submit to one another it is always a risk. And if people are found untrustworthy, then we make stricter boundaries for them, including husbands and wives. But in general, submission is scary because it makes us vulnerable. Yet this is the kind of vulnerability that Jesus the Messiah demonstrated to his Father as well as to his disciples (entrusting them with his message, washing their feet) and asks us to do the same. This is the kingdom life of love, trust, authenticity.

In the next post, I'll talk briefly about some cultural background...

[1] I’ve heard many teachers say Paul says “own husband” to specialize the submission Paul is talking about here. Yet in light of the discussion on verse 21, I cannot justify this as a specialized submission. I don’t even know what that would mean, “Submit even more”? But Paul doesn’t say that even though he could easily do so. Also, in light of Paul’s other writings about humility and respect for one another, I am most convinced by the view that says Paul is making a practical admonition that, yes, as a follower of Jesus, humility and kindness is also needed to be applied to your husband (even if he isn’t perfect).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 3 of 16)

Continued from here.

Locating submission

In Bibles with topical headings before each passage, this verse is often excluded from the context that follows. We must note two things: 1) topical headings in Bibles are put there by translators to help the average reader—not part of the inspired text, and 2) the author of the letter (Paul) expected the reader to read the whole letter, top to bottom, in one sitting as one large context, 3) it is important to note that the Greek word “submit” is only found once in the entire passage: verse 21.

Glancing down to verse 22, the word “submit” is in our translations to aid us in our reading. But in the Greek, the word “submit” is not there. Rather, verse 22 borrows the word “submit” from verse 21. It literally reads, “Wives, to your own husbands…” “Submit” is borrowed from the previous verse and is understood in verse 22. That’s why translators rightly include it in verse 22. The New American Standard Bible, which attempts to translate word for word, italicizes the understood words added to the verse. For instance, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands…” The Darby Translation, which is even more literal, uses brackets for the implied meaning, “Wives, [submit yourselves] to your own husbands…”

This isn’t weird sentence structure. We do this too. Imagine you are working in the yard and say to your sons, “Joey, use the shovel; Jon, the spade.” Jon knows what you are asking him to do. The word “use” in the second phrase is implied and clear. This is the same thing Paul does with verse 21 and 22. “Submit” is implied and clear.

This observation should give us pause. Whatever the word “submit” means for the wife is no more than what it means for “one another” in verse 21. This is like our example of Jon and the spade: Jon is not asked to do anything more with the spade than what Joey is to do with the shovel—use it. Paul’s idea of submission for a wife isn’t a special submission otherwise he would have said it another way. He could have said, “Wives, especially you submit to your husband” or “Wives, let your husbands rule.” But he doesn’t say “especially you” or “rule” he only implies “submit” from verse 21.

Paul expects all followers of Jesus to submit to one another, wives included, no matter where you are—church, home, school, marketplace, soccer field, funeral, wedding, picnic, or at the movies.
But what does it mean to “submit”? It means “to order under.” When we think of “ordering under” today we think of military commanders and their ranks. We think of CEOs and the employees under them. Paul often thinks of this too when he talks about being subject to powers. But in non-military uses, it generally means, “giving in, placing oneself in cooperation, and even carrying a burden”[1] or even to “associate oneself with.”[2] But Paul uses an ironic context with “submit” in verse 21. We are to “order under,” yes. But Paul says we are to “order under one another.” I once heard a respected and seasoned theologian argue that “submit” only means “to order under” and concluded a wife is to be “ordered under” her husband. But for all the respect I have for this theologian, I was surprised he missed the paradox. When I read the verse for what it is, it seems straightforward. The paradox is that Paul says to “submit one to another.” I order under you. You order under me. This is what associating with one another looks like, mutual burden bearing, willing to cooperate. It fits Paul’s other writings telling us to consider others more important than ourselves and warnings that the last shall be first (verses that involve both genders). This is humility and love in the lives of Kingdom citizenry.

In the next post, we will continue into details for wives...

[1] offers handy resources to see what words mean. Of course, words only have their real meanings in context with other words and phrases. But it’s a start. Look up Ephesians 5:21 and see how “submit” is used. It will also note how it is used in military and non-military contexts.
[2] Discovery of extra-Biblical Greek sources suggest this.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 2 of 16)

Continued from here.

"Submit to One Another"

Paul begins this section of discussion on marriage with a summary thesis statement which he will illustrate as the passage unfolds. The thesis is found in verse 21, which says,

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The admonishing is clear: submit to one another. This applies to men and women, boys and girls, aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends, cousins, and everyone else who is rooted in the life of Jesus. Paul says our motivation is reverence for Jesus the Messiah.

Who is “one another”?

At the start of this passage some have argued that “one another” is selective and doesn’t mean what it appears to mean. In some instances this word refers to some betraying (Matt 24:10) or killing “one another” (Rev 6:4) If one is betrayed, the argument goes, another cannot betray back again. If one is killed, the fallen one cannot get up and kill the other. Those who hold this view believe verse 21 is referring to men submitting to other men and women submitting to men. But they say it cannot mean men submitting to women.

The problems with this argument are several.

1) “One another” is about the general attitude or behavior of the group as a whole, not about each individual.

2) In the 100 instances of this word in the New Testament, the overwhelming majority is that this is a reciprocated word referring to loving (1 Thess 3:12), burden-bearing (Gal 6:2), discussing (Mark 8:16), reasoning (Luke 2:15), grumbling (John 6:43), confessing (James 5:16), humility (Phil 2:3) forgiving (Eph 4:32), foot-washing (John 13:14), sending gifts (Rev 11:10) making peace (Mark 9:50) and other admonitions. The only exceptions are those based on logic, not instruction, like in instances of betrayal or killing.

3) In no instance of “one another” are exceptions made based on gender, age, ethnicity, or class.

4) Submitting "one another" is a quality of being “filled” with the Spirit, starting in Ephesians 5:18, which also includes singing, speaking psalms, giving thanks. There are no gender-specific spirit-fillings in Paul’s letters nor a reason to say "hymns" are just for men, "giving thanks" just for people who have straight teeth, "speaking psalms" for people with good memories, and "submission" just for women. Those would be arbitrary assignments. The text assumes that everyone filled will make melody, give thanks, and submit to everyone else. Submission for everyone is also consistent with the rest of Scripture (see Mark 10:42-44, Phil 2:3).

To be continued...

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Mystery of Submisson - Ephesians 5 (part 1 of 16)


The relationships between men and women, husbands and wives, is a deeply needed cultural conversation with great import into apologetics. Not only does the Scripture tell us to give an answer for our faith, but even more often it tells us to live out that answer, even in marriage. How we relate to one another in love is a tall signpost. Today, more than ever, the doors are swung wide to explore this mystery of marriage; it is prudent for anyone who claims to follow Jesus as the Messiah to do so.

Ephesians 5 holds the most detailed passage on the relationship between husband and wife in the New Testament. In other passages of Peter and Paul, we find short reminders of marriage using the same language as Ephesians. So we turn to here for the clearest idea of what Paul means. This is not to preclude the many passages that speak to all humans to love, be neighborly, admonish, exhort, and stand firm in the Messiah.

The “roles” of marriage evoke a roller-coaster of images and emotion. Everyone has an opinion. Some welcome new insights and ideas from others. And more often, many avoid honestly entertaining other models outside the flavor of the day. Some want to be progressive and grab some egalitarian model. Others want to be traditional and choose a tradition of the past even though traditions change depending on the era. Yet among those who take the Bible literally and without error there lies a broad spectrum of views, each claiming to be the “Biblical” way.

With a renewal of scholars talking about “equality” in marriage countered by others who hold to a “subordination” view of marriage (commonly termed “complementarian,” husband is leader of wife),[1] let’s look at this passage with fresh eyes. Let’s get some perspective on Paul’s words. Perhaps Paul is saying things we often overlook. Or he is not saying things we often assume out of habit. Or perhaps we need our ideas reinforced. When we consider the text for ourselves and all its beautiful nuances, it prevents us from merely mimicking one or the other side of the party-line.

I hope you have read the Ephesians passage. It is important that you do. Take it in. Let it inform your view. Any person thoughtful about this passage will be an influential leader in his or her sphere to the freedom that truth brings.

These posts will reflect my own honest inquiry and understanding of this passage today. I am open to changing my mind as evidence presents itself. I grew up under Christian teaching adamant about a certain view of marriage, a view that many subordinationists and egalitarians would consider more cultural than Biblical. Yet as I’ve studied this text over the last few years, I’ve noticed things I’d never seen before and have read various scholars with views that agreed with my heritage and views that did not. My motivation as a married man is to see what God thinks about roles and submission in marriage. And you’ll see that, apart from some cultural notes, my explanations are found in the text when we let the text speak. Biblical scholars, who love God and scripture, land in different areas of the debate, so this essay will not appeal to “scholarly authority” in a quotation-fest. For issues that stir up as much heat as this one, anyone can find a scholar that agrees with his own point of view.

Some have made teachings on marriage as essential as our hope in the resurrection. It is not. While I believe our view of marriage will have deep implications traced all the way to our view of the Trinity, I believe there is room to disagree on this issue in love without demonizing anyone. We would do well to pray for ourselves and others to be nudged by God's gentle Spirit into the light.

I approach the text as a student of Jesus and Paul. I have Jesus' view that the Bible is inspired and telling the truth without compromise. I also realize that all language, even my own, is found in context—a literary and a cultural one. And that makes a study like this one all the more adventurous.

Stay tuned.

[1] Both subordinationists and egalitarians believe the sexes “complement” one another. So I’m choosing words that best describe the view they hold rather than allowing either camp play rhetorical games to sound more appealing.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Another great light out--Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn became a household name in 20th century Cold War politics and an important figure in modern world history.

Solzhenitsyn was also a hero in understanding what it means to be human, both with a backdrop of prosperity as well as revolutionary suffering. He became famous for his Gulag Archipelago. Malcolm Muggeridge reported home in the early 1930s about the Russian atrocities under Stalin and predicted someone would rise up one day and write about it. Solzhenitsyn was only 14 at the time...

Short BBC Announcement