Sarah Flashing is the founder and director of The Center for Women of Faith in Culture. A writer and speaker to women's groups around the country, she also writes for Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership blog and is an adjunct ethics instructor at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Sarah specializes in a range of topics including church doctrine, bioethics, and Christian worldview. The Flashings reside in Harvard, Illinois.
The code of Fundamentalism emphasizes external adherence to a few arbitrary customs and external abstinence from a few arbitrarily prohibited things. When a Fundamentalist is pressed with this analysis, he will, of course deny it. He, too, is vitally concerned with inner moral integrity. But one cannot escape the impression that his main interest is in his code. After all, that is where he focuses attention, that is the subject of his preaching and writing, that is the criterion for fellowship. What other conclusion can an observe draw from hearing so much sound and fury? His impression is that the Fundamentalist is more concerned with his code than with the vast spiritual issues of life–love, kindness, patience, tolerance, pride, self-righteousness, bitterness, or humility…It is against this mind-set in Fundamentalism that the writer wishes to protest. He is not arguing for drinking, for smoking, for dancing, for gambling, even for movie-attendance. But he is concerned lest Christians confuse ethical living with an arbitrary legalistic bondage. He is concerned lest externals become so prominent that internal virtues and vices are not treated at all. A proper emphasis must be restored to ethical thinking in evangelicalism so that the vicious sins of the spirit are seen as Jesus saw them. ~Christian Personal Ethics, p. 425-426
I’d like to think that I’m not a Fundamentalist in this legalistic, external sense, but Evangelicals have been so trained to think that Christian liberty means even the untrained conscience can make ethical determinations to the glory of God no matter the outcome. The misnomer lies in the belief that the act of decision-making is where God’s pleasure resides, an appeal to the conscience no matter its maturity.
We, as evangelicals, are still concerned with the outward manifestation of decisions because we realize the impact they have on others, especially when these decisions relate to issues of human dignity. But ultimately, I believe in the mission of changing hearts, so that those who are being taught about the most God-honoring decisions will desire to make those decisions.
I’ll answer my own question, I don’t think I’m a Fundamentalist in this sense, but I can see how Evangelicals can be confused as such. They’re wrong, but I understand.
Women should never “settle” with a man in order to have a child. Granted, women are created by God to have longings for procreating and nurturing, and I believe this is evidenced in the fact that women will go to all kinds of technological extremes to have their own biological children. But this desire should never supersede the proper context ordained for raising children. While there are purportedly many different family models that work in our world today, the family model that is the true cornerstone of civilization, that honors God and respects life at all stages, is one that begins with a God-centered relationship between one man and one woman. A woman who “settles” so that the alarm on her biological clock does not sound before the childbearing milestone slips through her fingers is the personification of self-centeredness. Actress Jennifer Aniston argues that women should not settle, not because of any reason I just offered, but because so many other options (assisted reproductive technologies – ARTs) are available to women today.
“Women are realizing it more and more knowing that they don’t have to settle with a man just to have that child…Times have changed and that is also what is amazing is that we do have so many options these days, as opposed to our parents’ days when you can’t have children because you waited too long.”
Aniston made this statement at a press conference discussing her new movie, The Switch, another story about a woman who decides to get pregnant with the help of a sperm donor. This movie is certainly not the first to discuss the options women have in this biotech century, The Switch comes after two other recent movies about sperm donors including The Back-Up Plan and The Kids Are All Right. Going mainstream with these options is not just about promoting scientific progress in reproductive technologies, but about removing so-called prejudice against alternative families. But we shouldn’t be surprised that Hollywood would be the purveyor of secular-feminist propaganda.
Christianity Today recently asked some evangelical leaders about their response to the defeat of Prop 8 in California. Matthew Anderson’s comments speak well for what I believe should be the church’s focus in areas of bioethics and women’s issues in general.
Practically, I think we have relied too heavily on the will of the majority as our foundation for our legal actions. While political orders must on some level be representative of the people to be legitimate, our founding fathers set up a representative democracy for a reason. Without rejecting efforts like Proposition 8, politically conservative evangelicals should shift their focus toward equipping the next generation of leaders with the philosophical and theological training they need to affect society and government from the “top-down.” Majorities are unstable, and while traditional marriage has the upper hand now, it may not in 20 years.
Christians definitely need to stay engaged in the public square on all issues that continue to impact our culture, but in agreement with Matthew Anderson, we need to be intentional and focused about equipping the next generation to think through these issues theologically, and prepare our future Christian citizens and leaders to be unabashedly Christian as they argue these issues in the market place. But this isn’t just about the future of culture, but the future of the church and the role that Scripture plays in the lives of believers. New traditions will be in place in a few short years, and terms like “traditional marriage” and “traditional family” will have been shed of all meaning. But terms like “biblical marriage” and “biblical family” will always have meaning because they always point to a source.
But back to Aniston’s comments, she is correct, women today don’t have to “settle” in order to have children–from a technological perspective, anyway. But without a Christian worldview framework to consider the purpose and role of family and childbearing, what more can we expect? No matter what the law or science may permit, the people can willingly reject it when they have the ability to think theologically.
For whatever reason, the six-year venture of the Women’s Bioethics Project has come to an end with a recent announcement that they are closing their doors. But their work is not really finished, it is evolving. Kathryn Hinsch writes on the organization’s website:
We need ways to reach people outside of the academic and policy realms. Leveraging the power of popular culture is a compelling strategy that engages the public in a visceral and dramatic way. Many emerging technologies and ideas were unimaginable until recently. Genetic testing, designer babies, radical life extension, and neural imaging, to name just a few, are still in their infancy. And there is a great opportunity for determining how these issues are framed in the public mind. Policy will follow public opinion, so we must ensure progressive values are part of the national conversation.
Christian bioethics similarly needs a strategy to educate and equip those in the pew. Academic materials are not easily translated and filtered down to families who I personally know are engaging in embryo screening and pursing IVF without the ability to acknowledge some of the theological considerations or tragic outcomes. A new project I am embarking on with The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity is a church bioethics council which seeks to develop lay-level materials for the church. Christians will (hopefully) not only be better equipped to engage these ethical dilemmas in their own circumstances, but also equipped to impact culture with a theological view of bioethics that recognizes the dignity of all humans, no matter their age or stage, above a progressive bioethics agenda that seeks whatever science will permit. Kathryn Hinsch has a great insight, that in order to inform public policy, people outside of the academy and political realms need to be reached. What Christian bioethics has that secular bioethics does not have is a gathering place for a concerted educational impact to occur.
Just about every evangelical church has lay people positioned as elders and teachers, rarely with formal theological training. Obviously, formal training doesn’t necessarily make one a good teacher, but it gives warrant to the belief that the person has a certain degree of knowledge of what they are trying to teach. But as a teacher, how much more does he or she need to know beyond that of the students? Is it appropriate, as the adult in the room, to be learning along side the students? (This may be an overstatement.) That’s something of a rhetorical question, because my current position on this is that, while teachers don’t need to know everything to the degree of having seminary education, they must have basic familiarity with the concepts whereby they can refresh themselves in further study and can actually lead the students without hampering their learning with on-the-job training. I’m curious what kind of training your churches offer in order to equip each teacher for their particular context.
I recently brought this up to a friend who suggested leadership development whereby teachers can learn to relate with their students and learn about the role of character in their leadership, becoming better teachers as a result. But that escapes the nature of my concern because even if a teacher is equipped at the most basic level, I’m not sure we are doing enough to take them to them further. Has the church made so much out of leadership development that we have neglected the equipping our teachers with the content they need to be truly effective? Not every teacher is a leader, yet the church is inundated with leadership conferences, books, and other materials. Everyone wants to lead and learn how to lead. But who wants to study? With anti-intellectualism rampant in the church, I say few really care to study.
Currently, I have one of the best teaching pastors I have ever known, I am blessed. But I’m unconvinced that Sunday morning is sufficient for equipping teachers for their own work. Whether Sunday school or youth ministry or adult studies, the gambit of information runs from basic Bible knowledge to apologetics and theological understanding. Pastors can’t do it all, and they definitely can’t do it all on Sunday morning, but maybe they could do more in the church if more direct training is required for all engaged in teaching ministry. Unfortunately, so much of teaching has been reduced to nonteaching. What I mean is that women are often not teaching Bible studies, they are facilitating, plopping in a video and asking “how does that verse make you feel?” The same may be said of Sunday school teachers who use prepackaged curriculum and are simply guiding 3rd graders in self-study. Can’t we do better?
The picture I have drawn here may be overly pessimistic. I know many good lay teachers are out there. But I also know a lot of theological incompetence exists, but the training available for non-pastors is limited, especially when the teacher doesn’t quite know what he needs. This is a local church issue and we need to do more than hope lay teachers find iTunesU or read a few interesting blogposts.
From a Christian point of view, the virtue of compassion is rooted in the character of God and exemplified by the saving work of Christ. His was an example (though not merely an example) of ultimate compassion, giving completely of himself not out of compulsion but out of pure sacrificial love and devoid of political motivations. It is a model of compassion that we can only live out analogously because we fail to meet the standard of pure selflessness. For Jesus, he willingly chose to lose when he had already won. He is God! We strive, and with God’s power we achieve, but due to the fallen state of things, someone inevitably encounters our weaknesses. But we still seek to be compassionate.
Caring for society’s most vulnerable is part of our mission as the church and one that Christians take very seriously and act upon on a daily basis. The poor, the widows, the children—these are a few segments of society to which scripture explicitly challenges us to give of ourselves. And God’s church understands that the gospel without a cup of cold water isn’t very good news. Could we do better? Obviously.
As it pertains to the recent passage of health care reform, some left-leaning Americans suggest that conservative, especially Christian conservatives, lack compassion because some—ok most—have been opposed to the health care reform bill in question. They abide by the bold assumption that the health care reform bill sits above other acts of compassion. It is better than creating jobs, it is better than smaller piecemeal options like opening of the state borders to more health insurance competition. It is better than simply working at the elimination of fraud and wasteful spending.
There are so many books that have influenced my life that I’m not sure I can reduce the list to just 10 titles. So I offer a list of thinkers who have had the most impact on my development as a Christian thinker (in no particular order).
Greg Bahnsen, Cornelius Van Til, Carl F. H. Henry, Nancy Pearcey, Francis Schaeffer, John Frame, Abraham Kuyper, D.A. Carson, Dorothy Sayers, Roy Clouser, Albert Wolters
Okay, that’s 11. Isn’t it interesting what you can learn about who a person considers a positive and prominent influence in their life? I only wish more women could be included in this list.
As Christians called to be agents of good news in a fallen world, we find our method and our message within the text of scripture. By method, I don’t refer to the exact way we accomplish ministry in various contexts, but who we are and what we portray of Christianity in the process—our character. It is virtually impossible to separate the message of the Gospel from the messenger, so we are called to love God, our neighbors, avoid immorality and speak in a way that doesn’t revile God among unbelievers. That doesn’t mean, of course, that every person who calls him or herself a Christian doesn’t depart from the life of spiritual integrity—as we know, sadly, it sometimes happens. As well, scripture provides no place for a deceitful, manipulative gospel that drags people to the altar. These have nothing to do with the content of Christianity but are reflective of Christ-less living. It is the deliberate acts of love and communication of the Gospel as truth that reveal to man his own fallenness and make attractive the Christian faith.
But as I said, we screw up. We shouldn’t embrace our screw ups, but we do screw up. And because our worldview is one of exclusive claims and has a the moral bar set far above the bar established by the world we live in, unbelievers are often eager to profit from our failings. For them, our failings represent either evidence of an inept system—somehow proof that Christianity is not the truth it claims to be, or at least that the message is tainted and the truth denied. Be that as it may, Christianity is a perfect system in that it best accounts for life’s ultimate questions and brings to the world real hope and change through redemption found in the blood of Christ. These facts are true despite the despicable behavior of some who profess Christianity. Radical. (more…)
Even for Fox News, this is surprising, yet this is how every believer ought to be prepared to respond–telling the truth with meekness and gentleness. Likely, Brit Hume’s statement will be regarded as arrogant and closed-minded, but Buddhism doesn’t provide for the needs of forgiveness and redemption and it will be interesting to hear the responses to his critique of Buddhism.
A long time ago a very wise man said to me, a newby to the field of apologetics, “you need to ground your apologetics in your theology, not your theology in apologetics.” The point he was making relates to that unresolved debate between presuppositionalism and evidentialism/classical apologetics. I wasn’t immediately persuaded by his argument but eventually came to see the truth as it is, realizing that what we should be doing in making a defense is speak from within our worldview commitment instead of step outside of it in order to make it’s case. This is where I first saw the relationship between apologetics and ethics, but that’s another post for another time.
Time has been a rare commodity for me in the last few months, but I sincerely value the opportunity I have to teach ethics in a non-Christian setting, one reason is because I get to observe and evaluate worldviews in action in the lives of every day people (i.e. non-academics). One significant thing I have learned is that there is less of a worldview clash than I had previously surmised, at least that’s how I am thinking about it right now. I’d rather describe what I have observed as a worldview synthesis, a situation in which individuals pick and choose from a variety of philosophical systems without concern for consistency of content or application. Because of this welcomed disparity, little offense exists between people with obvious differences in belief, because at some point there seems to be some overlap. And as much of a philosophical failure arguments for tolerance are, these every day people are perfectly content appealing to tolerance as a means for dealing with whatever hostilities might exist. Apart from the bits and pieces approach they also take with Christianity, they generally know that biblical Christianity stands in stark contrast to their more blended perspective, but they’ve reduced adherence to it or any other more concise system of belief as a matter of family tradition or influence.
It’s stupid to even entertain the question. But every time I see it posed, it isn’t for getting people to focus on issues instead of remaining blind devotees to political parties. Intentional or not, it often serves as a way to distract people from important issues that do deserve our attention. “How can we come together as a nation instead of remaining so divided?” The unspoken fallacy occurs when it is stated that Jesus was neither a democrat or a republican. Are we really suppose to believe he wouldn’t have had a view on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or gay marriage? When the highest moral value of a culture is unity at the expense of principle, there is no real unity and we can wonder if principles ever existed in the first place.
So when people in the pews hear their church leaders espouse this same ideal, that we should be cautious about political partisanship (generously stated), I’m not convinced the people are sophisticated enough to know that they aren’t being (or shouldn’t be) told to abandon positions on issues that are thought out and held up against the light of scripture. I know that many in the church are ill-equipped to think theologically about their personal lives, let alone matters that face our entire culture. So I have to wonder if this lack of distinction between public issues and politics in general even matters if the church is unable to think theologically, if its members are just starting to develop a Christian worldview.
Could the above reflections have any relationship to the fact that of the millions of evangelicals in the U.S., less than of us 200,000 have signed on to the Manhattan Declaration? And many of the signers are likely Roman Catholic.
This is a topic I’ve been reflecting on for awhile now, so while I know it doesn’t fit ideally with the current Thanksgiving motif, I didn’t want to squander these thoughts.
I don’t often navigate in the world of worship ministry, so I have no idea if or to what extent this has been a topic of discussion. However, I am not so sheltered that I am unaware of the debates over contemporary vs. traditional music/worship services. Ok, so by now you’re wondering where I am going…here it is. (more…)
Today a friend of mine on Facebook (not just a Facebook contact, an actual friend) posted a link to a survey by White Horse Inn distributed at a Franklin Graham evangelism and Christian music event in August. According to the survey, a total of 92 people participated (45% male, 55% female). 57% were teens between 13 and 19, 29% were adults between 20 and 40, and 14% were adults over 40. I wish more people had participated in the survey, but given the nature of the event where it was distributed, these results are quite interesting in and of themselves.
Asked whether God is like a helpful coach who is there to help us when we need him; he wants us to be happy, 96% responded in the affirmative. I’m a bit mystified by this “coaching” language that has permeated Christian circles. Is it mentoring and/or discipleship? I’d love to hear what you think about sr. pastors who use the title “Coach” instead of “Pastor.” Anyway, I digress.
Other questions in the survey included the obvious inquiries into the church’s relevance, whether it should be entertaining, enjoyable, and fun. 79% of the respondents believe that it is important to grasp difficult doctrines like the Trinity, the atonement, and propitiation. But 26% believe the doctrine of justification refers to our need to do good works to justify ourselves before God in order to go to heaven. Ok, so this doesn’t represent a majority of the respondents, but 26% is a significant portion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the number were larger if the survey were taken by more people. Here is where it gets truly scary, as if all that wasn’t enough. When asked to agree or disagree with the statement, There is no one righteous, there is no one who does good, there is no one who seeks God, 67% choose to disagree with the Apostle Paul.
The results of this survey are not a tremendous surprise, but I think that’s the saddest part of all.
The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network has announced that Dr. Leon R. Kass has been selected to receive the 2010 Paul Ramsey Award, given to those who have demonstrated exemplary achievement in the field of bioethics. Kass, the Addie Clark Harding Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the College at the University of Chicago, is a pioneer in bioethics who has made significant contributions toward a proper understanding of the challenges we face in bioethics. From 2001 to 2005 he served as the chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics and has been writing and thinking about the ethical and philosophical issues raised by biomedical advances for more than thirty years.
It is being reported today that Christianity is undergoing yet an assault via loons in the entertainment industry. There’s not much new about that. In an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David urinates on a painting of Jesus, causing a woman to believe the painting depicts him crying, as if a miracle has occurred.
Two things cross my mind as I read more about this story. First, as Christians why is this so shocking? It is disturbing, but these are not followers of Christ perpetrating these actions. It’s not like we can expect them to act as believers if, indeed, they are not.
Secondly, perhaps we actually contribute to the problem of political correctness by demanding that we, as representatives of Christianity, be treated with the same so-called tolerance and respect offered to other worldviews. I hear it framed this way frequently by conservative pundits, let me apply it to this case: “Well if this was a picture of Mohammad you would act less offensively.”
No doubt Christianity is the red-headed step child (how’s that for pc?) of contemporary culture, but this provides for an opportunity to speak truth, not suppress it in some sort of worldview fairness doctrine.
With a sense of urgency, the body of Christ needs to be equipped to give an answer to obstacles and objections to faith as a matter of discipleship within the church as well as for the gospel ministry each member of the body has outside of the church. And how we live from the point of conversion onward will reflect to the world a certain degree of faithfulness to the truths we claim. Transgressions by well-known “family values” politicians who might otherwise be regarded as moral reformers in the years that follow their civil service are often regarded as a failure of the Christian worldview, leaving the church ashamed and silent. The old adage “talking the talk without walking the walk” is taking on a greater sense of relevance in this new century. And due to advancements in technology, sometimes the specific decisions that we face in life need a bit more ethical reflection than a congregation is generally equipped to face. The 21st century believer is confronted by a plethora of ideas and decisions, and the church must stand firm and prepare her people to think theologically in such a way to impact all areas of life. We must prepare a place for deliberate theology, apologetics, and ethics education in the church, especially in the sphere of women’s ministry. Why particularly women’s ministry?
The experience of womanhood provides opportunity to address certain issues women in particular can relate to, and to disciple in a way that addresses deeply engrained ideas rooted in false belief, replacing them with truth. The choices that many women make about how to live—choices made prior to conversion and perhaps even early in their Christian walk—have consequences that come with them to the pew—when they eventually find the pew. Some of these consequences can never be eliminated, preventing them from finding functional reconciliation with biblical womanhood and related teachings. For instance, a single mother who has no choice but to work in order to care for her family can never fulfill the vision of womanhood that has her at home supporting a husband as head. Of course, this may be taught as the biblical ideal, but never being able to achieve it may have a significant effect on her relationship with God and those in her church. This is not to recommend the abandonment of biblical teachings on the family, church leadership, or parenting because they might seem irrelevant to the particular circumstances of many women. The issue I am raising is much larger. (more…)
The title of this post begs the question, who are the doctrine-obsessed and is that an accurate assessment of them? In the Washington Post’s Evangelicals Feel a Need for Renewal, this is one of many perspectives on what’s wrong with evangelicalism as discussed at a recent conference at Gordon-Conwell:
Richard Alberta, senior pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brighton, Mich., said preoccupations with doctrinal purity help explain why he struggles to round up other evangelicals to join him at anti-abortion events.
“When you get evangelicals among themselves, instead of addressing the social and moral issues, they get backwatered into some debate about dispensationalism or Calvin or Charismatic Renewal,” Alberta said. “There’s lots of suspicion, and those worries seem to act as filters that keep evangelicals from getting together.”
Similar frustrations were expressed by Travis Hutchinson, pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America) in Lafayette, Ga. He said he routinely gets a cool response from other evangelicals when he asks them to join his efforts to minister among undocumented immigrants.
The problem, he said, is that the doctrine-obsessed have lost touch with the heart of Jesus. “The missing ingredient is not the primacy of the mind and doctrine,” Hutchinson said. “It’s the willingness to suffer.”
Is it the lack of cohesive doctrine that inspires the focus on doctrine? Scripture calls us not only to unity in mission, but also in unity in message.
Teaching ethics in a local junior college is a great opportunity to impact minds in my community. A somewhat ancillary discussion we have had in class is the usage of moral and ethical–terms with no meaningful distinction, though sometimes associated with different quadrants of society (e.g. business & ethics, religion & morality). Within evangelicalism, we similarly have our own usage for these terms, adding to the list Christian living and growing in Christ, among others. Again, no meaningful distinction, except that for many Christians, ethics/morality is often associated with the hotly debated issues in our culture such as abortion and gay marriage whereas Christian living and growing in Christ generally relate to personal spiritual maturity. But couple this softer ethical language with statements such as “Christianity isn’t a list of rules, it’s a relationship” and suddenly right and wrong are undermined with “I’ll pray about it” which in many cases means “I’m not going to let a reasoned argument influence a very emotional and private decision.”
Yes, ethics is my academic hobby horse, but I am also motivated by ministry, concerned for families and the crucial life decisions that are made without full consideration of the implications and never learning to think Christianly about them. For many families, its just a medical decision or an economic decision–they are surprised later to learn that there were moral implications to be considered, or they knew that there were and they chose to “pray about it” instead of actually saying “this is right” or “this is wrong.” As a matter of sanctification, we need to discover how to bring a more deliberate role for ethics in the church, so that encouraging ethical reflection is not like walking on eggshells.
I’m so honored to be a part of this blog and look forward to the many conversations that will take place here. As I have been reading and reflecting on the meaning of “evangelical” I kept going back to what evangelicals think and do. I’m not sure we can do anything to change the way we talk about ethics in the church, but I believe any attempt to move away from trite or insincere language has the potential to make real impact on the church at large.