Wednesday, May 7, 2008
An Interview with Rob Bell
Well, I finally met Rob Bell last night and had an intense conversation with him. Kind of. Like indirectly.
He was in Seattle for the Seeds of Compassion event with the Dalai Lama. I have no problem with that at all. I would have loved to have been invited to participate but no one called my agent. But since Rob Bell was in town, Off the Map invited him and a few other folks to speak to an intimate crowd of about 150 folks at an event hosted at the Vineyard Community Church.
Rob Bell spoke initially and eloquently for about 15-20 minutes on the thrust behind his upcoming book entitled, Jesus Wants to Save Christians. Here’s a short but fascinating description:
There is a church not too far from us that recently added a $25 million addition to their building. Our local newspaper ran a front-page story not too long ago about a study revealing that one in five people in our city lives in poverty.
This is a book about those two numbers. It’s a book about faith and fear, wealth and war, poverty, power, safety, terror, Bibles, bombs, and homeland insecurity,
It’s about empty empires and the truth that everybody’s a priest, it’s about oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate and participate in the very things Jesus came to set people free from.
It’s about what it means to be a part of the church of Jesus in a world where some people fly planes into buildings while others pick up groceries in Hummers.
Ok, that’s when things got a little awkward and we had our indirect conversation. After his chat, Rose Madrid Swetman [co-pastor at Vineyard] came up to interview/dialogue with Rob Bell about the topic of women and leadership in the church. For the record, Rob supports women in leadership and has female elders at his church, Mars Hill [Grand Rapids]. Absolutely no relation to that Mars Hill [Seattle].
And how did she begin her interview? She reads a quote [with permission] from someone named Eugene Cho who wrote the following comment on someone’s blog about the church being a White Man’s World:
…we have to ask how are we as revolutionary followers of Jesus - who debunked the systemic structures during his life - are working, living, ministering, writing, speaking and creating to work towards that end.
Power, voice and influence are not easily pursued [and obtained]. It must be distributed and shared from those who have that very power, voice and influence. And because it is so counter-cultural, we have to be that much more intentional.
As a male, I am embarrassed at times at the manner in which we [men] directly, indirectly, or systemically oppress our sisters. While there’s a legitimate female candidate for the president of this country, there are many [in the church] who still wonder if women should be in leadership. I know that [for them] it’s a biblical issue and not intended to be a personal issue but why would women want to subject themselves to these questions again and again and again…
Rob like others must have thought, “Who the frack is Eugene Cho?”
Actually, I felt bad for Rob because I’m not sure if he had an idea what the conversation was going to be about. Because honestly, he didn’t really impress during the interview. He stumbled through his thoughts and words and I’m not even sure if he understood what Rose was trying to communicate to him.
Rob - for better or worse - is a Christian celebrity. He’s a good guy and I very much dig his humility. The dude is not arrogant or self seeking like someone I know who has a self-righteous pharisaic image of himself praying on his blog banner. But honestly, I am amazed how globally popular and influential he is as proven by his books, NOOMA videos, packed out speaking gigs in venues like the Paramount Theater in Seattle, and even a recent write up in Time Magazine.
It was awkward because my words were quoted but I wasn’t able to dialogue with him. If I had a chance, I think this is what I would have said:
Hey Rob. I’m a growing fan and by the way, I like the buzz haircut.
So, this is what I’m trying to get at.
If you haven’t figured it out yet…It’s a White Man’s world. And well, you are a White Man. In fact, you are an especially powerful and influential White Man. The church, unfortunately, is no different than the structures of the larger culture. It is also dominated by White Men. While women and people of color shouldn’t create a state of dependency on the support of White Men, it is encouraging - nevertheless - to be supported by White Men including those who are visible and influential. This would be you.
Certain people have power and sadly, the power structures are such that it tends to perpetuate the advantages of those who have power. And while there have been advances, I know you will agree that there have been some grave injustices against women throughout the history of the church including the present day. And while you have female elders in your church, I guess the question I want to ask is how are you actively and intentionally supporting and advocating for women through your larger ministry beyond your local church.
Why am I asking this? Because people are listening…
Rob Bell is bluntly, one of the most visible and influential figures of Christianity in the 21st century. He is arguably the face of the emerging Evangelical Christianity in North America. It must be both a burden and blessing and I’m interested how he will use the platform of his visibility to distribute and share that power and influence.
For women and on a lesser level, people of color, it’s an uphill journey. It just is. And if you have to ask…you just don’t understand. And on this uphill journey, it’s uplifting when those who have power can acknowledge and advocate for those on this uphill journey.
Interestingly, Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell both pastor churches called Mars Hill - as I shared earlier. And last year, there was some crazy ruckus because Driscoll called out Rob Bell as a heretic at some sort of leadership conference. Ahh, as the Christian Subculture World Turns.
And for the record, one of my best theological conversations - ever - was with Mark Driscoll over the issue of women in leadership nearly seven years ago over an intense but good lunch. Driscoll has been one of the most vocal, if not the single most vocal antagonist in our generation of women in pastoral/elder leadership. And while I know there are some great things going on with Driscoll and MH Seattle, it is stunning and alarming [depends on your perspective I guess] to see the spread of his theological influence. And so, I guess I’m wondering who might be the other person(s) [of similar or comparable influence] who will speak passionately and prophetically in full support of women in leadership. Why am I asking this question? Because they have the power and influence.
What do you think?
Monday, May 5, 2008
This article was posted by Andrea Faris at Christians in Context... there are a few things we may not be in FULL agreement with BUT for the most part we are playing in the same ballpark!
May 04, 2008
Ever notice that a man who runs the church's children's ministry is called a children's pastor, but a woman is called a children's director? Well if you hadn't, certainly my woman children's director friend has- and to her credit, she doesn't get real upset about little things like that (last I checked, I think she may even agree with it). In any case, the game is up: those children's directors really are children's pastors. They do all the same stuff, just with a different title to match the different anatomy.
Of course the people who come up with stuff like that are normally godly folks just trying to get the Bible right, and in the attempt to be faithful to 1 Tim. 2:11-14 et. al., pull the titular switcheroo. But I for one have always wondered what Paul would think if he came around our churches only to find that his Spirit-inspired concerns about gender roles in the church, at least at points, got so trivialized. (Well, maybe he'd be too busy telling all the egalitarians just how wrong they'd got his writing to notice how complementarians mess with ministry titles...zing!)
Harold Hoehner wrote an article for the December '07 issue ofJETS entitled, "Can a Woman Be a Pastor-Teacher?" in which he makes a point of distinguishing between what the NT calls "gifts" and what it calls "offices." On a number of levels, the article is frankly not that good. Most importantly, Hoehner predicates the case on a false understanding of spiritual gifts (apparently he hasn't read Berding's book) that leads to the plainly counter-intuitive dichotomy between things like doing the work of an evangelist and having the gift of being an evangelist (766-7).
Nonetheless, one point is well-taken: the word-group translated "gift" or "spiritual gift" in English Bibles refers to something distinct from the church office titles of elder, bishop, and deacon especially found in the Pastoral Epistles. This leads Hoehner to conclude that a woman could have the gift of pastor-teacher (Eph. 4:11) and even be ordained as such without necessarily also being an elder, which Hoehner maintains is a position restricted to males in the church.
Despite the article's problems, the noted gift/office distinction still stands, and leads me to conclude this: a woman really could have the spiritual ministry (a better term, following Berding) of a pastor-teacher, as long as it is within the Biblical bounds set for women's ministry roles, esp. in 1 Tim. 2:11-14 (Hoehner tries to get at something like this, but is simply not as clear). Specifically, if her authority is exercised over children and/or women, there is no reason that she could not be exercising her ministry of pastor-teacher.
One more correlating point should be added: "pastor" is an overused term in our churches today, compared to its relative scarcity in the NT. Outside of the Eph. 4 passage, I am not sure of a text that refers to church leaders as "pastors". "Elder" (Gk. presbuteros and/or episkopos) is the more common and explicit term, most importantly within the Pastoral Epistles. That is to say, of course a woman children's "director" is pastoring those children. It does not mean she is exercising the ecclesiological male-only authority of an elder. This understanding of pastoring actually fits better with the Eph. 4 use of the term as a spiritual ministry for the edification of the church, rather than an office per se. There is something more active (for lack of a better word) about pastoring.
So go ahead ladies, call yourselves pastors, as long as you're not doing the stuff that the Bible says is only for males. The issue has a lot more to do with what you do than what you're called. After all, there is no explicit "women can't be elders" text- that is a (reasonable) application from the function-in-action type boundaries set in 1 Tim. 2 compared to what the rest of the Pastorals say about eldership (cf. Blomberg's article in Two Views on Women in Ministry). Maybe the title change would even change the focus for women from "what you are not supposed to do" to "exercising your role in the ministry God has empowered and called you for." And that would be a nice change.
I should add one last comment: this would only work if we properly used the terms "pastor" and "elder" as delineated above. Otherwise, it will probably result in confusion. But I think it is worth going through with both changes together simply because of connotations. "Director" (or whatever other non-biblical word you choose) comes off in my view considerably more demeaning (and actually considerably more authoritative!) than the biblical term "pastor." And like I said, what we want to do is encourage both men and women to fulfill their God-given roles for the sake of His church.