Monday, February 25, 2008

C.S. Lewis and Gender

Many of us can probably remember our first C.S. Lewis experience. For me, I was introduced to Lewis’ works through the old PBS Chronicles of Narnia series. I loved these movies, and would often step into my bedroom closet just hoping that on the other side the world of Narnia and Aslan would be waiting for me. As I got older my encounters with Lewis became more intellectual. I distinctly remember thinking that I had long way to go at my first, and second, attempts at reading Mere Christianity.

C.S. Lewis is a staple of thought-provoking, engaging evangelicalism, which is why I was delighted to read a complementarian essay by my favorite Narnian.

In his book God in the Dock, Lewis pens an essay entitled “Priestesses in the Church,” where he expresses his dismay over the Anglican communion’s decision to ordain women. As a result of a shortage of priests, much like today, the Anglican church voted to bring women into the priesthood.

He says:

"To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds by the operation."

Lewis saw the decision to ordain women as one that would have lasting repercussions on his denomination. And it did. The very denomination that once moved in the direction of the ordination of women is now wrestling with the ordination of homosexuals. The Anglican Church now ordains more women than men.

Lewis saw that the ordination of women has everything to do with the doctrine of God. It is not simply about women being in the pulpit.

"To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents God to us and us to God. Our very eyes teach us this. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East—he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second. But why? Why should a woman not in this sense represent God? Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she may be as God-like as a man; and a given woman much more than a given man. The sense in which she cannot represent God will be perhaps plainer if we look at things the other way round."

"Suppose the reformer stops saying that good woman may be like God and starts saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to “Our mother which art in heaven” as “Our Father.” Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called Daughter as the Son. Suppose finally that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does."

And there is the reason. The ordination of women is not simply a preferential issue, like we decide music styles. Rather it is deeply rooted in a theology of God, a theology of his Triune nature, and theology of His Gospel. To abandon male ordination is to be set on a trajectory to abandon these fundamental doctrines. Lewis even goes so far as to say that moving away from masculine images and male priests is “against Christianity.”

According to Lewis, gender matters. Not simply in technical terms but for the Gospel itself. As is evident from his from his writings, C. S. Lewis saw in advance the problems that the church now suffers as a result of the ordination of women.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Becoming an "All-Letter" Christian

I used to be a Democrat. In the same way that I wrestled with feminism after coming to faith, I wrestled with my political affiliations. Not because I wasn’t pro-life, or even pro-marriage. And not even because I was overly political. Those were never issues for me. I just hated to see people hurting and in poverty, especially children, and I wanted so badly to do something about it. So, I thought the best way to fix the poverty problem was to vote people into office who would fight poverty and join forces with humanitarian organizations.

For myself, my moderate, socialist leanings were stemming from a genuine desire to see needs met, but these honest desires were the result of a deficient ecclesiology on my part. While I paid lip-service to the truth that churches were supposed to help the poor, I was easily swayed by the mainstream ideology that the average conservative religious person cares very little about the poor, and for that reason I wanted no part. I honestly believed that the primary way to bring about kingdom change was through political agendas and the welfare state.

And then I moved to the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Phillips is where supposedly over 200 languages are spoken, and on my street our house was the minority. It was not uncommon to see a drug deal take place within feet of our front door. It was not uncommon to hear gun shots at night. It was not uncommon to see a fight right outside our window and then wait for the police to show up. One night we even came home from Chipotle to find a charred and smoking car across the street. It had been set on fire.

But we didn’t live their simply because we felt like it. We lived there because our church, based in the city, was committed to being a Light to the community where we worshipped on Sunday morning. Now, more than ever I realize that if we are ever going to see poverty dealt with it will not be through elected officials, or even secular humanitarian groups. It must come from the local church living in communities and teaching the Gospel to their neighbors. And living in a community does not simply mean handing out Gospel tracts and door-to-door evangelism without ever inviting the single mother and her children over for dinner. If we are ever to see lasting change in the city, and in the world for that matter, we must live life with the people we desire God to save. We must know their names. We must bear their burdens. And above all we must preach the Gospel to them.

Christians should care about “social issues” primarily because, as Christians, our concern is not with fixing situations and symptoms, but rather the heart of the problem. I am not simply a “red-letter Christian,” but an all-letter Christian, recognizing that all of Scripture is inspired by God. Poverty is a symptom of the real problem—sin. We live in a sin cursed world that is crying out for redemption, and we can see that even in the face of the little boy playing across the street while his mother completes another drug deal. The Bible is telling us that the Kingdom is an already, but not yet. We are striving for a City that is to come, and if we exert all of our energy in a political agenda divorced from the Gospel and the local churches mandate to help the poor, we will be disappointed and confused in the end, and we really won’t be helping anyone.

We cannot attempt to put new wine into old wine skins because the Bible has shown us that it doesn’t work. We need new wineskins, new hearts, and a new creation, that has all been transformed by the saving power of our Christ.

C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity:

We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking for further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.

For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.

May our hearts desire be to labor for the “new kind of man” and not simply a reordered old one.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Alternative Views of True Headship: Part I

Below is a blog post that I wrote for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood with David Kotter. We are responding to an article where Muslim men are condoning the "light" beating of their wives. May this be a reminder that the gender issue is not simply about "roles." It is about Christ and his Gospel, apart from it we have no basis for gender roles. CBMW is a great resource for learning more about the gender debate. You can visit them at


When dealing with a "disobedient wife" a Muslim man has a number of options. First, he should remind her of the "importance of following the instructions of the husband in Islam." If that doesn't work, he can, "leave the wife's bed." Finally, he may "beat" her, though it must be without "hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the fact, at any cost," according to Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha.

Recently in Genderblog we discussed the true meaning of headship in a four-part series. The focus was on the biblical and historical textual evidence supporting the concept of authoritative headship in Ephesians 4:23, "For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior." This post will contrast the complementarian view of male headship with the vision set forth in Islam.

Biblical headship must always be humble, loving, strong, and sacrificial in a way that brings glory to Jesus Christ. In practice, husbands (and wives) sinfully fall short of this biblical ideal, which is why we are grateful that forgiveness is freely available the blood of Jesus. Nonetheless, this complementarian goal for headship in marriage stands in stark contrast to other views of headship in other religions or the prevailing culture.

Islamic teachings on verse 4:34 of the Koran was described by Asra Q. Nomani in an article in the Washington Post. An English translation of the verse is available online: "Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great."

Abdul Rahman al-Sheha understands this to allow husbands to use physical punishment as a "disciplinary action," especially for "controlling or mastering women" or for others who "enjoy being beaten."

American Muslim Preacher, Sheik Yusuf Estes, commented on this verse when speaking at an American university. In reference to "disobedient wives" said, "First, tell them. Second, leave the bed. Finally, roll up a newspaper and give her a crack. Or take a yardstick, something like this, and you can hit." The ensuing discussion included questions about whether or not it would be appropriate to use a heavier Sunday paper to give a wife "a crack."

Other Muslims are understandably troubled by this understanding of verse 4:34. Accordingly, Indian Muslim scholar A. Yusuf Ali, inserts a parenthetically qualifier in his translation of the verse, "Men could beat them (lightly)." An organizer of Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence endorses only the "tapping" the wife as a "friendly" reminder.

Even so, not all Muslim husbands beat their wives (even lightly), and sadly, domestic violence occurs also in non-Muslim communities. Nonetheless the Koran presents a view of headship that is different than what we see in Scripture.

The headship of Ephesians 5:25-30 is one of a husband loving his wife, cherishing her, and caring for her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. God provides for us, in his Word, a framework for understanding headship and manhood that is not compatible with that of the Koran.
Think of, Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who protected and provided for his fiancé who was pregnant with a child that was not his. He did not beat her, he did not scorn her, and he did not even divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:19-24, 2:19-22).

And lastly, consider Christ, who was crucified for his disobedient Bride, the church (you and me). He does not give us what we deserve, which is far worse than a light beating. Instead he guides us, provides every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and makes us joint heirs with himself (Romans 8:16-17). Though Muslim leaders may understand the Koran to allow and even condone "light" wife beating, we recognize that the Bible has no room for domestic violence of any kind. Complementarians have no tolerance for beating because we believe the Bible to teach that headship and submission are willing and loving acts, not oppressive patriarchy. Truly biblical patriarchy is a call to die, not to beat. It is a call for husbands to sacrifice for the good of his wife and family. It is a call for husbands to protect from oppression, not administer it.