Posted on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I’m almost through reading Mark Edmundson’s thought-provoking work, The Heart of Humanities: Reading, Writing, Teaching, and I just came across a line that really sums up the theme of his whole book: 
 
“’The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re not cool.’” 
 
He is quoting from Lester Bangs, a character in the movie Almost Famous. Lester is on the phone with his aspiring rock journalist friend, William Miller, who is telling him about the band members he is doing a profile on and how chummy they are being with him. “Don’t buy it, says Bangs. ‘They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.’” Bangs reminds his friend who he is and is not; but that’s a good thing, he says. “‘We’re uncool’” He wears it like a badge. Edmundson elaborates, “and though uncool people don’t get the girl, being uncool can help you develop a little spine. It’s too easy out there for the handsome and the hip---their work never lasts.” That’s when he lays down Lester Bangs’ line about the true currency of uncoolness. Edmundson builds on this, saying the best teachers are the uncool ones, “because really good teaching is about not seeing the world the way everyone else does.”
 
The whole 459-page book really leads up to this line. When making the argument in "Why Read?", he laments that Americans are always watching screens which serve as narcotics to deaden our souls. And what are we watching?---the culture of cool. It’s all an advertisement. Even the actual commercials don’t describe the products anymore as much as the type of person they will supposedly make us. We are all expected to want to conform. In our postmillennial consumer culture, we “buy in order to be. Watch (coolly) so as to learn how to be worthy of being watched (while being cool).” This isn’t a currency we can trust. 
 
So, why read? Edmundson builds the case that reading good literature takes us into different worlds, offering us different truths. These too are truths that we must challenge, asking ourselves what it would mean to live accordingly. Good literature ignites the reciprocity of good readers who not only interpret the literature well, but let it interpret them. We discover our own preconceived notions, what is meaningful to us, and how we think about things. It’s all so uncool.
 
So is writing. “It usually means putting something down, looking in the mirror that is judgement, finding yourself ugly, and living with it.” I really could identify with the section where he discusses the rituals writers go through before they can get into the zone to do their work. Some of these protocols can be quite weird, he says, as we are trying to transition from a state of “habitual self”, which is the necessary state “we need to inhabit most of the time…Habitual self drives the car and gets bodies, including its own, to various places at agreed-on times. It gathers the groceries and chops them…it pays the bills and takes care of kids and parents and schmoozes at the post office. It takes obligations related to death and taxes with some degree of seriousness.
 
But habitual self cannot write to save its life.” Since habitual self sounds like a machine when it tries to write, many writers have rituals of trying to transition to reflective, creative-juices-flowing self.
 
As a side note, rereading that section diagnosed the manuscript hangover I have been experiencing this week. All this time that I have spent trying to get a book out of my head and onto paper is also an investment in transitioning from habitual self into another world of sorts. It’s a passionate world. And then you push the send button. Habitual world all feels so, well, more habitual than before. Do I dare speak my book life into a conversation? When I do, I notice how it all sounds so terribly uncool. The content in it challenges the conformity that I find myself living back in habitual world. 
 
Both Edmundson’s affirmation of the uncool and his entertaining riff on rituals to escape the habitual self speak to a purposeful move towards transformed consciousness---one that has currency and produces lasting work. This is encouraging. It also makes me reflect more on the evangelical subculture, especially as we see it unfold on our screens. Everyone wants to be cool, so much so that we look to our screens to tell us how to be. Christians are also on the alert against cool, even as we produce our own brand of it. Reformedish ministries and media often gain a following when they take a stand against a prevailing unbiblical conformity in the church. But what so often happens is a slide into constructing their own value systems in which their tribe is expected to conform. They too become just another brand with weakening currency. What may have originated with a strong spine, a challenging voice that needs to be heard, weakens as it builds likes and excludes others asking the difficult questions. Sadly, many intricacies to a conversation, debate, or issue get overlooked in the name of coolness, or faux belonging. Because that’s what coolness is. That’s what Lester Bangs was telling his friend: you don’t really belong; they don’t genuinely like you---the you I know. Don’t buy it.
 
Genuine community needs strong spines that continue to strength train. If the church is always reforming to Scripture, then we should expect periods where transformed consciousness is needed. Do we find genuine community in the evangelical subculture? We certainly don’t find it on our screens. True transformation happens when we are discipled in a local covenant community through the means of grace God provides to give us Christ and his blessings. There we find literature that has the power to interpret and transform us. And we can never exhaust our learning, discovery, and delight in it.
 
There is a type of conformity that is good. But it doesn’t result in the bland coolness of the culture. When we align ourselves in obedience to the good in which we have been created for we find true belonging, genuine community, and unique personhood. He gives us strong spines. Ones that bend, move, and stretch rather than grow stiff. And he authorizes us to speak of him.
 
Posted on Friday, March 22, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
 
I’ve been slacking on the blog, but I promise I’ve been writing. My manuscript for Zondervan is due April 1st, so that is where I’ve been investing much of my reading and writing time. Along with the enriching research I’ve been doing for my book, I have been reading some other books on the side. And since I miss blogging, I want to share good books, and my time is limited, I thought I’d offer some short recommendations. So, I’ll start off with two today and hopefully share two more next week:
 
 
I love how Alan Noble makes me think with this book. In Part One, he critiques our distracted, secular age and how technology and social media is affecting the way we view ourselves, our faith, and our world. With all of the choices and customizations before us, the gospel can easily be presented as just another personal preference like our diets, politics, and latest pet cause. “The challenge for the Christians in our time is to speak of the gospel in a way that unsettles listeners, that conveys the transcendence of God, that provokes contemplation and reflection, and that reveals the stark givenness of reality” (30). Honing in on our obsession with self-fulfillment and life-as-performance on social media, Noble pinpoints how our online personalities portray how we want others to interpret us. What can subtly happen is that “our focus shifts from practicing our beliefs to signaling our beliefs to ourselves and others” (43). This affects our gospel witness as well, as it gets treated as “performance of our identity” rather than “punctur[ing] the buzz of modern life, the thinness of belief, the closed immanent frame, and our attempts at crafting identities and narratives of our own” (60).
 
Noble presses the reader to recognize our need for contemplation, meditation on Scripture, living in community, reorienting our desires, and honest self-evaluation. “If my foundation for knowing my place, purpose, and end in this world is on the basis of a self-discovered hidden identity that only I can verify and properly know, and that others are obligated to accept by virtue of being outside me and therefore are unable to judge, there is less space for collective human flourishing” (72). And so he spends the second half of the book calling us to be disruptive witnesses through disruptive personal habits, disruptive church practices, and disruptive cultural participation. “A disruptive witness denies the entire contemporary project of treating faith as a preference” (81). You’ll have to read it for yourself to learn more. It will be time well spent!
 
 
I took this one with me on a long flight and it totally consumed me. In the first half of the book, Carr writes her experience in present tense as her 18-year-old son begins to kind of unravel---she later describes it , quoting from Elyn Saks, as a sandcastle slowly losing sand as it recedes into the surf---from the person they’ve known since birth, his diagnosis of schizophrenia, trying to learn what it going on inside his brain, caring for him, and the desperate love of a parent. There are so many layers to this book: personal biography, faith, lament, navigating through insurance coverage, proper medical care, drug use (both prescribed and illegal), the function of church, the weight of each decision along the way, family dynamics, the nature of mental disorders, danger to self and others, misconceptions, and the gripping question of whether to commit a loved one to institutional care. Carr is raw in how she shares this, revealing her own weaknesses, insecurities, sin, and restoration. All the while, God is glorified in her writing---not in a forced, “I’m a Christian and so I have to sound put together” type of way, but in an absolute, coming to the end of herself, dependence on the God who loves Simonetta and her son more than she ever can, and a holding fast to the character of God and his promises even as she doesn’t know how all these broken pieces fit together.
 
The second half of the book serves to help the reader navigate through all she and her husband had to learn in the process of caring for a loved one with a mental illness. This section is not only helpful for families going through this, but churches and friends who want to love those families well. We are looking forward to interviewing Simonetta on the podcast. I recommend that you buy the book and read it for yourself.
Posted on Wednesday, January 09, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I took a camping and backpacking class in college to fill in one of my extra electives. It’s one of the classes I remember the most. We had three trips where we were dropped off on different parts of the Appalachian Trail in groups on a Friday, carrying 1/3 of our weight in backpacks full of supplies and tent parts, and were left to make it to our pick-up destination on Sunday. We had to filter our own water, make our own food, deal with the whatever weather conditions we faced, find good spots to set camp for the night, and really hope you don’t run into any bears, skunks, or poisonous snakes. At least those were the three things I was most afraid of. 
 
Anyway, that class still has lasting value in my life over twenty years later. I live near several small, rewarding hikes on the Appalachian Trail, as well as some other beautiful spots like Sugarloaf Mountain, Cunningham Falls, Maryland Heights, etc. I love to hike. One of my favorite spots to climb is a mountain of boulders in the Catoctin Mountains. I am hesitant to return there though because I’ve encountered rattlesnakes twice. One I found sunning itself on a boulder I was about to step up to. I booked it down the mountain in fear. The other I did not see but heard its threatening rattle when I stepped on a rock it was under. I booked it down the mountain in fear---even though I learned in my class that snakes are pretty docile, and usually tolerant up to a third offense (so maybe a third hiker in line who steps on it) for the snake to strike. Who wants to test that?
 
This long introduction is an illustration of my thinking when I read this article On Getting and Keeping Masculine Men in the Church. It was the third offense in two days. This author of this article, a pastor, wants to give advice on how to attract "manly men" in your congregation “that will likely trigger the feminists among [his] readers.” The problem he is addressing is that too many churches---not his---have a ratio of significantly more women than men in the church. 
 
Consider me triggered. I’ve barely been on social media lately, and yet this is the stuff I have been seeing when perusing my news feed. I’ve been trying to chill safely under my rock, but this third crunch on my spine lured me out. This article is exactly why the first two bothered me (which I will get to in a minute). You see, this pastor identifies what he believes is causing this “problem” of so many women in the church---effeminate men in leadership. He warns pastors:
 
You can’t be effeminate, though. That’s a real turn off to masculine men. Effeminate guys give masculine guys the creeps. If you have a feminine voice, or an effeminate manner, sorry, Jack, but you are unlikely to get masculine men into church.
 
He goes on to his tips on being and attracting masculine men by saying it helps to have experience with a manly job like home improvement, give firm handshakes and look people in the eye (this is not advice for women, which he instructs never to show strength in a handshake because that is creepy---oh and he really doesn’t recommend shaking women’s hands anyway because they are other men’s property), reserve the use of the word love, spend your time seeking the manly men, stop using emotional stories in sermons, and do not touch women or children because they are some man’s property (“touching doesn’t communicate affection; it communicates ownership”). I would hope that most people who read this article would have the same, “Are you kidding me?” reaction. This used to be the sort of thing I would just ignore. But the mindset here is pervasive in the evangelical church. I was made aware of this article because Sam Powell has already written an excellent response to it, challenging the use of the word effeminate and the notion that many women in the church are a bad thing, and upholding the fact that pastors need to preach Christ, not manly masculinity. 
 
I could add to that, but what I want to do is connect the dots. Let’s go back to my hiking illustration with a different angle. This time I’ll be the hiker and I am not going to book it down the mountain in fear. You can be on the right trail and step on some very dangerous rocks. I read two articles yesterday from leading voices who are upset about the APA’s issuing guidelines for men and boys. I often am sharpened by these men, which makes it all the more troubling for me when I read these. Rod Dreher says that the APA has declared manhood a disorder. While I track with his critique over the APA’s stance and teaching on gender identity, the publication is not saying that manhood is a disorder. Here is the actual charge:
 
The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful. Men socialized in this way are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors.
 
They don’t want to throw out manhood, they want to address unhealthy teaching on manhood, even while encouraging the positive aspects of the traditional teaching:
 
The clinician’s role, McDermott says, can be to encourage men to discard the harmful ideologies of traditional masculinity (violence, sexism) and find flexibility in the potentially positive aspects (courage, leadership). He and his team are working on a positive-masculinities scale to capture peoples’ adherence to the pro-social traits expected from men, something that has yet to be measured systematically.
 
Can’t we read this with better critical nuance? Can’t we acknowledge the truths in the article while also critiquing some of the other ideologies it promotes and contradictions within it? Do we really want to identify stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression as manliness? You see, while Dreher wants to warn against the path of LBGT propaganda, he doesn’t hear all the rattles of ungodly ancient misogynistic cultures that believed stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression are male virtues. Is that any better than the LBGT path? This is not manliness either. 
 
Trekking to the next article, Dreher recommends David French’s response to the APA, which equates the harmful stereotypes the APA is addressing to ways to shape “grown men.” Why are these men sinking their claws further into this brand of masculinity? Reading between the lines, I can easily see what they think about how women should be: non-risktakers, passive, emotional…hysterical. French’s conclusion which paints him as an alpha-male hero strikes me as ridiculous---as if women throughout history have not had to step in and save their children’s lives with their own strength (and might I add, like him, total dependence on the Lord’s providence). From the beginning, women need an enormous amount of strength in endurance to even give birth. I’m glad French is a good steward of his masculine body and that he could use that to save his son. But he even concedes to relying upon his wife’s corresponding strength to complete the mission.
 
I’m all for the logical and Christian critique that points out a contradiction in the APA’s findings. But let's not keep the dirty bathwater with the baby. We should strip away harmful gender stereotypes and expectations and both men and women should pursue virtuous behavior. Then we can challenge the APA, asking why they encourage pandering to the LBGT community that capitalizes on people transforming their own images according to the other sex’s worst stereotypes. 
 
I’m all for upholding man and woman, created as sexual counterparts, and having different strengths to offer. While I am challenging what many say are essential differences and expressions of femininity and masculinity, I am not saying that we should not affirm biological and even gendered differences between the sexes. I agree with Mark Cortez that we can still affirm some cultural norms associated with gender without holding that these must be essential to our sexuality (Resourcing a Theological Anthropology, 208). However, while cultural norms may not be essential to our sexuality, men and women are both equal in dignity and distinctly differentiated by our sex. Based on the essential, hylomorphic understanding of the body and soul, a metaphysical understanding that has been developed throughout history since Aristotle that recognizes “the human being as a soul/body composite identity”, we understand that as the image of God, there are “two distinct ways of being a human being as a male and as a female” (Prudence Allen, The Concept of Woman, Vol. 3, 494, 464). This is not something we have to force under an artificial ontological framework of authority and submission or under cultural stereotypes. Complementarity presupposes difference, but also communion through giving of the self in and through these differences. Whether we are talking about mutual self-giving in union in marriage, or self-giving reciprocity in communion of friendship, vocation, church service, or neighborly activity, men and women give “of the specific richness of their respective humanity” (Allen, 460). Let’s not reduce that out of fear that we may lose so-called power or gender wars.
 
Both men and women are to look to Jesus for Christian virtue. We are not directed to masculine manhood or feminine womanhood. We are not even directed to biblical manhood or biblical womanhood. We are men and women who are together directed to Christ, who called men and women blessed who were poor in Spirit, mourners, gentle, thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for his sake.
Posted on Friday, November 02, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Anthony Esolen is an author whom I’ve enjoyed reading. I have respect for his work and his integrity to speak his convictions even when it costs him something. This is why I was so troubled to read his convictions in his latest article for the New English Review, Hysteria and the Need for Male Leadership. The title alone is disturbing. It reduces women to a term loaded with historical baggage. Based on the Greek word for uterus, hysteria refers to extreme irrationality and excessive emotion. The title portrays that since uteruses cause women to have “ungovernable emotional access,” women cannot lead. 
 
Esolen plays out this theme by addressing the hearing regarding the sexual allegations against Mr. Brett Kavanaugh, which he calls “the ghastly farce,” and his confirmation as Supreme Court Justice. The article goes on to describe how the whole ghastly farce happened because we are listening to women. He concludes:
 
Hysteria is not a new thing in the world. Think of Salem. The new thing here is that Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis are sitting at the bench. What is to be done? The same as must be done for the colleges that the politics of hysteria has ruined. Men must build their brotherhoods again, from the ground up, and be once again, if unacknowledged, the legislators of our common life.
 
I couldn’t believe my eyes while I read through to this conclusion. Is he equating the two girl accusers from the Salem Witch Trials to women sitting on the Supreme Court bench? Is the problem with our society and the outrage between the tribes on the left and the right due to women?
 
Apparently the “hysteria” around the Kavanaugh hearing is a good picture of how our whole society is becoming feminized. Esolen first makes the point that citizens no longer care about the actual vocation of the Supreme Court, as we are ruled entirely by our emotions. He then describes how inept our senate is today saying, “Ours is like a football game with referees but no rules—better if you had no referees at all. A brawl in a barroom ends when the men’s arms grow tired. Our civic violence, because there are no rules but there are referees, never ends.” 
 
I agree with some of the critique Esolen offers. When charges are made, we need to care about actual corroborating evidence, not slander or gossip. The Kavanaugh hearing was a mess from the way it was handled by the politicians to the social media mob mentality and death threats on both Kavanaugh and Ford. It was sickening to see how it all played out in front of the public eye. Ultimately, Dr. Ford’s testimony could not be corroborated and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. I agree that we cannot “ruin a man’s life” without evidence. Many men and women slandered both Kavanaugh and Ford during this process. 
 
The next point Esolen raises about the hearing is the need for a statute of limitations for accusations such as Dr. Ford’s:
 
People forget things. They invent and imagine things. They make artificial sense of things that were not related. This is especially true when no definite crime has been committed. 
 
Here Esolen moves from the argument of how accusations can ruin a man’s life to downplaying the nature of the charges. First he suggests that Dr. Ford is remembering it all wrong. Clearly Anthony Esolen has never been a victim of sexual assault. That is not something that you can easily forget. It is a definite crime against your very dignity as a human being made in the image of God. I may not remember what I said last week, but I certainly would remember if someone attempted to rape me when I was a teenager. I would remember if I was scared for my life as two drunken boys locked me in a room against my will and held me down trying to take my clothes off! While Brett Kavanaugh may be innocent of the charges, we must not pretend that they were no big deal. This kind of talk is exactly why women may wait 30 years to speak out.
 
And the message we send to sexual assault victims who are watching should never be “just get over it.” That is what Esolen says, adding that maybe the reason Dr. Ford can’t get over such a thing is because she is a woman and she is taking things too seriously:
 
Battles must end. In the jubilee year, slaves are set free, and that is that. When boys in the old days got into a scrap, they would often pick themselves up, more dusty than hurt, and become friends again. What’s done is done. If we are not talking about a serious crime that was committed and not just intended or imagined or, the agent in a drunken stupor, placed within the realm of possibility—an act such as murder, arson, kidnapping, or rape—it is destructive of the common good to hold people responsible for bad things done long ago. 
 
Esolen continues to lament that “If you are a drunken teenage boy and you grab a girl when she does not want it, that’s a hanging offense.” I agree that is not a hanging offense. But we don’t only have the two options of hanging groping punks or shrugging our shoulders. Let’s not send that message to our children. Esolen points out the hypocrisy of wanting to hang a man for groping while simultaneously fighting for the rights of fornication and adultery. Sure, there are many male and female hypocrites out there (none advocating for hanging, by the way). But in describing these hypocrites, he uses the language of a mother bear guarding her cubs to further perpetuate the uterus/hysteria message from the title. Christians should be speaking out about all sexual sin. In that case, I wonder how Esolen would feel if a man groped him in the privates and he was powerless to do anything about it? Is it no big deal? Of course not, it is a terrible violation. However, this is not even the point. I agree, “justice demands distinctions.” Again, the testimony against Kavanaugh is far more serious than unwanted groping! 
 
He rightly says that “we hate rape because it is vicious and violent, an offense against the vulnerability of woman,” but then adds, “not to mention subjecting her to the possibility of a life-altering pregnancy.” Unwanted pregnancy isn't the only life-altering consequence rape victims have to bear for the rest of their lives. Here again, I see women reduced to their uteruses. We are more than bodies with sex organs that produce babies. Rape affects a woman’s soul, her mind, and her whole psyche. And for this, we don’t only hate rape, but attempted rape as well. I am not saying that is what Kavanaugh did. But that is the nature of the charges.
 
Next, Esolen begins to explain the differences between men and women in broad strokes. Men pride themselves in knowing when to bend the rules to fit the case. Women are incapable of this and cannot be objective with their own children, favoring them over others. He continues:
 
…the female of the species, which is, as Kipling says, “more deadly than the male.” The male can be fair to other men’s children against his own. That is not in the female nature. That great admirer of women, G. K. Chesterton, said that there are only three things that women do not understand: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. He meant, by all three together, the lively liberty that a brotherhood of men enjoys when they argue with one another in a club or a beer hall or a college dining room, and no argument is ruled out for its being put forward by a plumber and not a professor, and everyone tacitly agrees that you have a right neither to an opinion nor to any tender feelings regarding your opinion, but rather to an argument. Women in our universities have given notice that they will not abide that masculine punch and counter-punch. Hence the “safe space,” safe for a cancer.
 
Esolen continues to run nostalgic on the good ol’ days when were settled in the beer hall. For the sake of brevity, I will just fire off some concluding thoughts:
 
You cannot reduce men and women to Victorian stereotypes and call that an argument.
I've been around enough childhood sports events to see that men are not objective with their own children! 
Has Esolen EVER been in a barroom fight to settle an argument?
Sounds like men were ruled by ungoverned passion in the good ol’ days. Fueled by beer. I think those were the days that many of them returned home to their families in a violent stupor.
I know plenty of women who make good, sober arguments that are just ignored.
It is simply not true that there are no power dynamics of class and social status in the brotherhood.
He's the one arguing for a safe space!
I know how to give a pretty darn good punch and counter punch, buddy.
 
Esolen concludes that women are despots who govern for their own interests. Listening to women these days is like listening to two girls who ignited the mob mentality hunting witches in the elate 17th century. After all, even with all the progress we’ve made in society, we still have uteruses.
Posted on Thursday, November 01, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Radiolab did a series of three podcasts called “In the No” in collaboration with radio maker Kaitlin Priest, whose “mini-series called ‘No’ about her personal struggle to understand and communicate about sexual consent” motivated Radiolab’s host Jad Abumrad to further discuss the difficulties of consent in sexual encounters. He introduces the series saying, “That show, which dives into the experience, moment by moment, of navigating sexual intimacy, struck a chord with many of us…Over the next three episodes, we'll wander into rooms full of college students, hear from academics and activists, and sit in on classes about BDSM.”
 
Well, let me tell you, they successfully strike a chord. I wanted to hear what kinds of conversations were happening, so I listened to the series. I was extremely uncomfortable listening to parts of it because it was borderline pornographic---if there’s such a thing as pornography for the ears. To bring the listener to a better understanding of the difficulties of a woman being Illustration by Cara Turett ( Photo by Justine Camacho on Unsplash )able to communicate what she doesn’t want, Priest plays reenactments of her own personal sexual encounters (and live footage of another). This is very successful in portraying how men can be pushy, how difficult it can be to say no, all the reasons women may go along with sexual acts they don’t really want to do, and all the gray areas in between “Yes, I want this” and “No, please stop now.” 
 
I have mixed feelings about this podcast series. On one hand, I am glad that men and women are talking about all of the power dynamics around consent. This is an important conversation. Awareness is being raised. On the other hand, these people do not have a healthy view of freedom, sex, love, power, or friendship. So it is a very unsatisfying conversation.
 
The podcast is eye opening. But it is also pretty vulgar. Priest hosts an “artsy, feminist sex radio show” and her sexual language is offensive from the start. She claims that third wave sex positive feminism taught her to “adapt the same, ruthless sexual posturing as boys” and that “would allow her to wield some of their power…having slut pride would subvert the double standard and it would force the world to recognize that women’s sexual pleasure is real.” She pauses, and then reveals that the only problem is that she hates casual sex. Instead of investigating more of why that is, Priest tells the world all about her sexual life of masturbation on her radio show. She does say that what she is looking for is love, even though she knows it’s corny. She knows that the sexual revolution has sold her a lie. But she still uses its language. Why does Priest expect more from sex if she uses the “F” word to describe it?
 
Right away, we learn that even though she is supposedly looking for sex only within a love relationship, Priest is still very casual about her sexuality with male friends. She over-shares. She’s sexually intimate. She wants to cuddle under a blanket and have movie sleep over nights. But then she doesn’t quite know what to do when her friend takes this behavior as signs for more. She sends mixed messages. And yet, as they begin to mess around, she does communicate clearly what she doesn’t want to do---several times. Very clearly. At this point her friend betrays her, acting like so many other encounters she’s had, basically talking her into what she clearly communicated that she didn’t want. She wants to be liked. But she doesn’t want to be consumed.
 
She is tired of being a means to an end. The end is the man’s pleasure. 
 
But Priest does not understand how to escape this. Sure, a man should also be thinking about the woman’s pleasure.  But that is not the answer---that happens as a result of knowing the truth about sex. This view of sex, and even her life of masturbation, is all about consumption. She kind of knows this when she is the oppressed, but she just turns it around to making it be about her own pleasure in masturbation. She has settled. She wants good sex but has no sexual identity beyond pleasure. She thinks her standard for good sex is love---but why does she think this? That’s what I would love to ask her. And if this is so, why does she think she will ever find that in the hookup culture?
 
Sex is a uniting act where two flesh become one. It isn’t consuming; it’s giving. It’s sharing. It is such an intimate sharing that it is exclusive to marriage with one spouse.** You can’t look to the hookup culture for this kind of remarkable intimacy. Kaitlin Priest’s expectation for love and pleasure is too low! As she is busy seeking feminine power and pleasure, she is blind to the sacrificial, sanctifying love that builds in Christian marriage through the years. This absolutely beautiful and glorious love grows beyond the youthful, original attributes that attracted us to one another, to a mature appreciation of the scars that mark its progression. She will NEVER get this from the hookup culture or from masturbation. Within this covenantal, Christ centered love in Christian marriage, sex is an intimate opportunity for growing, sharing, pleasing, learning, teaching, and forgiveness.
 
Kaitlin Priest is only in her twenties. And although she sees the lie in the third wave feminist movement she is still falling for its premise that people are to be consumed for our own pleasure. That sex is a means to power. And yet she still wants to be that something beautiful that others will want. So she has reduced her own body as a means to get these things: belongingness, pleasure, and power. 
 
There’s a much bigger issue at stake. 
 
The hookup culture is supposedly about freedom and autonomy. Priest’s radio show reveals that the playing field is not really equal. But she doesn’t see that the whole premise of self-interest and self-pleasure in the hookup culture is enslaving. Richard Bauckham wasn’t talking about the hookup culture, but his wise words can be applied in this situation:
 
The contribution of the New Testament’s insights into the nature of real freedom as liberation from enslavement to self-interest and freedom to give oneself for others is also important in this context. The oppressed who long for freedom are not truly liberated from the system that oppresses them so long as the freedom they desire is only the freedom their oppressors have: freedom for themselves, no matter what this entails for others. In such circumstances the struggle for liberation is simply a mirror image of the system it opposes: it becomes ruthless in its self-interest, creates as many victims as it liberates, and produces a new kind of tyranny in place of the old. Outward liberation worthy of the name requires people who have been freed to live for others, and for all others, even for their oppressors. (Bauckham, God and the Crisis of Freedom, 24-25).
 
In this case, freedom comes in serving our brothers and sisters by promoting their holiness, not by seducing them for our own pleasure. Priest looks for freedom in the hookup culture but cannot find it. She looks for autonomy in masturbation, but it’s unsatisfying because it’s terribly lonely. She too is enslaved by her own pleasure. “Belonging is necessary to true freedom, and freedom is necessary to true belonging.” They are “not exclusive opposites, but reciprocal factors. There is no human independence that is not rooted in a deeper dependence---on nature, on other people, and on God” (42).  Freedom and autonomy don’t go together.
 
What is more powerful, using our own sexuality to seduce someone, to impose oneself on someone, or in sacrifice to promote the good of our neighbor? This is also where the purest pleasure will be found. And you just might find love as well.
 
 
 
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. (C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory")
 
** I don't mean to convey that consent is not needed for sex within a Christian marriage. But as one of the interviewees noted, consent is all about what you will let someone else do to you. It's terribly sad to reduce sex to this. And yet, there are plenty of Christian marriages with unhealthy sexual dynamics. I have tried to explain a healthy view of sex above. If sex is a giving and sharing of oneself, that certainly requires the volition of both parties. Without that, we enter into the same issues of violation, sexual assault, and abuse that the mini series was addressing.
 
Illustration by Cara Turett
( Photo by Justine Camacho on Unsplash )

 

Posted on Friday, October 19, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
A couple days ago, I wrote about how even the world of Reformedish evangelicalism is contributing to the sad “State of Theology” that is evidenced in the Ligonier Ministries’ survey. Bad theology is perpetuated in our own circles when ethics is prioritized over our theology of God, his Word, man, and the gospel. 
 
And so I asked, why are we surprised by this? If we accept bad theology on the basics, our ethics are going to follow suit. Our updated survey is showing just that. And so we see that even the ethics that we held so dear are now falling apart:
 
An alarming 69% of people disagree that even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation, with 58% strongly disagreeing.
 
As the results reveal a low view of God and his Word, a high view of man, and a distorted gospel, it only follows suit that sin is no longer that big of a deal. I can’t tell you how many “Christian” books I’ve read by popular authors in our circles that don’t even use that word anymore. One of the most powerful books upholding the holiness of God and the evil of sin that I have ever read is Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Evil of Evils. If sin is a missing word in our vocabulary, evil is even more offensive. His premise is, “That it is a very evil choice for any soul under heaven to choose the least sin rather than the greatest affliction,” reasoning that, “There is more evil in sin than in outward trouble in the world; more evil in sin than in all the miseries and torments of hell itself” (2,3).
 
Think about it, when the youth in our midst look at the church they often see her on one hand carefully calculating to accept or modify obvious behavior that Scripture labels as sin, and on the other hand reserving the strong language to quibble over skirt lengths and education. The ultimate sin that a contemporary Christian seems to face is that of not being very nice. Maybe we need to spend some time talking more about what sin really is so that we are clear on why we are so desperate for Christ. Maybe the good news doesn’t sound all that radical to someone who is frustrated or merely broken and hoping for a makeover. But when you learn about the pure holiness of God, sin is seen as the evil of evils, something to abhor at all costs. And that leads us to think about what sin cost our Savior. Burroughs expounds:
 
Oh, you heavens!  How could you behold such a spectacle as this was?  How was the earth able to bear it?  Truly, neither heaven nor earth was able, for the Scripture says that the sun withdrew its light and was darkened so many hours. It was from twelve to three that the sun withdrew its light and did not shine, but there was dismal darkness in the world for it was unable to behold such a spectacle as this was. And the earth shook and trembled, and the graves opened and the rocks split in two, the very stones themselves were affected with such a work as this, and the vale of the Temple rent asunder. These things were done upon Christ’s bearing of the wrath of His Father for sin. Here you have the first fruits of God’s displeasure for sin, and in this you may see, surely, that sin must be a vile thing since it causes God the Father to deal thus with His Son when He had man’s sin upon Him. (102)
 
Surely we think of sin as too small a thing. The creation couldn’t even bear the sight of Christ carrying our sin, propitiating the Father’s wrath. Our holy Savior took on the greatest affliction of bearing our sin—every bit of it—as he faced his Father’s judgment instead of us. Could anything ever come close to showing us the evil of sin as God pouring His wrath for it on His Son? And not only are we able to turn to him for forgiveness, but his very righteousness is reckoned to us as well. Who else could be worthy of our praise and worship? How could we choose sin over any affliction when we have Christ’s Holy Spirit to apply his glorious work to us and give us his very strength to avoid the evil of sin? Even now, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for his people as we are being transformed into his own likeness.
 
Why would we ever want to soften this language? And what’s more perplexing, why is it often used instead for shaming on extra-biblical regulations like skirt lengths, current interpretations for biblical manhood and womanhood, political parties, food righteousness, and education choices? These extra-biblical regulations are not the power to holiness. Sin isn’t what’s “out there.” Sin saturates our hearts. This is why we so desperately need to know the Holy One who delivers us from the reign of sin and places us in the reign of grace, giving us the power by his very Spirit to obey. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). 
 
We need to love the One who gives us the freedom of holiness---who takes away our chains, declares us holy in him, and then begins the sanctifying work of transforming us into his likeness. In order to know what sin is, we need to know holiness. Then we need to know how we will have the transforming power for goodness. The beauty of freedom is that we can finally choose goodness!
 
Are we as a church clearly communicating to one another and the watching world what sin really is? 
 
 
*A section of this post is taken from an earlier article on the Evil of Evils that I wrote in 2014
Posted on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I received a preview of Ligonier Ministries’ State of Theology survey in my inbox last week, revealing what evangelical Americans think about God, Jesus Christ, sin, and eternity, and was afraid to click on it. I can already see the state of theology all around me. It’s easy to blame the secular culture around us or the denominations that don’t take theology seriously. But bad theology is perpetuated in our own circles. 
 
Unfortunately, a trend I have noticed in the evangelical church, particularly in our parachurch groups and popular level so-called Christian books marketed to us, is that we care more about ethics than really knowing these primary doctrines. As long as everyone is on the same page with the sexuality, pro-life, and other social issues the church is up against, Christian authors and readers have been given a lot of leeway. 
 
Brothers and sisters, we have our priorities out of place.  We should care about social issues and sexuality because of what we know about God and salvation.
 
I have written so much about how our own Christian books are conditioning us to have a low view of God and his word, a high view of man, and a distorted gospel. I’ve mentioned how, for example, no one seemed to be alarmed about a popular women’s author’s troubling views on God’s Word or man’s ability to save himself, until she came out saying that homosexuality can be considered holy. The line was drawn at Christian ethics, not at the Christian message. 
 
And so I asked, why are we surprised by this? If we accept bad theology on the basics, our ethics are going to follow suit. And our updated survey is showing just that:
 
This year, for the first time, more Americans agree that the Bible’s teaching on same-sex relationships is outdated than disagree.
 
STATEMENT NO. 29
The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.
 
Finding:
44% agree vs. 41% disagree
*All participants in 2018
 
As we are rightly concerned about ethics, I’m also concerned about writers, preachers, and teachers in our circles forming alliances with others who advocate for social issues we hold dear, even as their teachings in some primary doctrines have serious theological problems. It can be beneficial to join forces over ethics, but we need to be upfront, not silent, about our theological convictions in the process. Sharing platforms and cross-promoting needs to be done honestly. Because if our ethics are steering the wheel, we will lose our orthodoxy and the ethics will all loosen anyway.
 
I care very much about social issues. But they come from my theological convictions. I’m concerned about how low or bad doctrine has been accepted and promoted for the sake of our social stances. This was painfully demonstrated when we called for complementarian evangelicals to take a stand on an orthodox view of the Trinity. I thought, as complementarian leaders have called out the abuses in feminism and the sexual revolution, they will surely call out the unorthodox teaching on the Trinity. I thought, they will surely correct those who use that teaching to apply it to social relationships, saying women are eternally subordinate to men---right? Because that is really bad. We’re talking about who God is. And that would distort the gospel. That would take from women what Christ said would never be taken from her. 
 
But it was taken. And the top complementarian leaders were silent. No retractions. No apologies. No, instead, there was just a little shuffling of leaders. Instead, I was criticized for my tone. Apparently, when confronting abuse and heresy, you are to have a gracious and submissive tone---if you’re a woman, that is. Because then people will respond? No, they still don’t respond. I had that tone back in the day, when I believed in complementarianism. No one remembers that because no one listened. And with the nice tone and all, it wasn’t very interesting. 
 
The thing is, what these complementarians believed about social relationships between men and women was steering their theology of the Trinity. We were given this response by the new president of CBMW:
 
I am a Danvers complementarian. That view of gender is not and never has been reliant upon an analogy to the Trinity. Biblical complementarianism neither stands nor falls on speculative parallels with Trinity… 
 
CBMW exists to promote the Danvers vision, which is silent on this current controversy. 
 
This is the same organization that most promoted the errant view of the Eternal Subordination of the Son. This is a primary doctrine. All of the sudden, it doesn’t matter as long as everyone agrees on women still being subordinate. 
 
I’m sad about the state of theology today. Very sad. But before we shake our heads, we need to begin in our own circles. 
Posted on Tuesday, September 18, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
 
I am ashamed of my 17-year-old behavior. By God’s grace I have matured into a 42-year-old with a godly understanding of holiness and identity. By God’s grace, I have repented of my wayward behavior and his righteousness has covered me and the sanctifying work of his Spirit is transforming me more and more into the likeness of Christ. That doesn't mean that there are no consequences for my actions.
 
Criminal behavior certainly has consequences---especially criminal behavior of the nature of allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Outspoken people are taking sides commenting about whether or not these allegations are true. That isn’t what I want to address. What I am shocked over is what I am seeing regarding whether or not it even matters now, even if it is true. I would agree with Rachael Denhollander’s assessment that  “hasn't committed a morally repugnant felony" should be on the list of qualifications for leaders holding some of the highest offices in the land. So let’s evaluate these allegations.”
 
The court of Twitter is all over this. I've tried to stay out of online political conversations. But it gets extremely disheartening to see more and more comments like this from people whom I’d otherwise respect:
 
 
I’ve seen and heard this sentiment a lot over the last couple of days---by Christians. I have a 16-year-old and an 19-year-old daughter. And I hate the message this kind of reaction sends to them---boys will be boys. Sometimes they just can’t help themselves. I hope you aren’t the one in their path when they get that sexual urge and want to have a little fun. Oh, and by the way, if you speak up about it, you are going to be ruining their lives. I also hate the message it sends to my 13-year-old son---look, you’re a guy and sometimes you just can’t control yourself. And if you’re drinking, then it’s not really even you. I mean, 17-year-old you isn’t really the you who you are going to be anyway. You have an excuse. 
 
I grew up in a family that was obsessed with self-defense. So I received some training that many children did not. There’s a self-defense mentality that goes along with the physical training. That’s no guarantee against assault. I still could have been shoved into a bedroom, powerless against two older strong young men. And there are more instances in my life than I can count where I was assaulted by what would be considered a lesser charge, a misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature. Women and teenage girls often do not speak up when this happens, because it’s often received as “no big deal.” We are just supposed to take it. Well, that is not the mentality I was taught. And yet the consequences of doing something about it are often just as demeaning, or could even be dangerous. 
 
One time this escalated for me in a traumatizing way. I was 18 years old at a crowded party in college. I felt someone grab my backside. I turned around and saw that it was a tall guy with a proud smile on his face, beaming while all his friends were laughing that he did it and that he got caught. My response was something like, “What is your problem?” and he acted like it was there for the taking. I warned him not to do it again. He did it again. It was even more humiliating the second time, as he clearly was enjoying the attention this was bringing him from all his buds. I warned him again and the look on his face communicated, “What are you going to do about it?” So I said, “If you do it again, I will have to defend myself.” 
 
Here is where a million scenarios run through your head because you know he’s going to do it again. There is a sense of powerlessness. He’s going to do it because he can. I should just get my friends to leave the party with me. But, a) I don’t know if I could talk them into leaving, and b) that might be even less safe if he and his friends followed us out. Maybe I can just move further away from these guys. Too late, he did it again, before I even had time to move. Those scenarios never had the time to play out because I literally just turned back away from him and towards my girlfriends. And without even processing what I was going to do, I defended my honor and I spun around with a right hook that nailed him in the chin and caused him to fall flat to the floor.
 
Doesn’t that sound so empowering? 
 
Well, it wasn’t. It’s not like he was just going to take it and move on, (you know,  like I was supposed to do when he assaulted me). Everyone was now looking. He was just clocked by a girl. Immediately he yelled, “what the hell is your problem, bitch?!” I was portrayed as a hysterical "B" as he continued to berate me. Things could have gone from bad to worse here. Maybe I could knock him down when he wasn’t expecting it, but now I’m standing there with his whole group of buddies who could have all tore me up. Thankfully, my friends sought out the person whose house it was, and he was a stand up guy. I really was at the mercy of this guy’s judgment. Did it matter that I was being continually groped in his house, or was I being hysterical? He said it mattered. He kicked out the perpetrator and his friends. With that, he sent a message to everyone watching. I, on the other hand, was a mess. It was such a vulnerable moment in my life.
 
Now this was a much smaller offense than what Ford is accusing Kavanaugh of. It’s not the kind of offense, even if charged, that would affect his career at 53. But it is still seared into my mind at 43. I wish 18-year-old me didn’t go to parties. But I am grateful that the young man who threw the party thought what was done to me mattered. In this situation, we probably had a drunk teenager telling another drunk teenager that he crossed the line. Not only that, he assured me that I would not have to endure the humiliation of dealing with that guy any more in his home. He made him and his friends leave his house. 
 
I wasn’t shoved into a room and pinned on the bed while someone stronger and older than me tried to rip off my clothes, laughing while grinding himself on me and grabbing me. My mouth wasn’t covered so that I could not call for help. I was a little scared for my safety, but I wasn’t in a position where it was very likely two guys would rape me if I couldn’t get away. I didn’t have to lock myself in a bathroom terrified, wondering if I could escape. I didn’t have to run out of the house and then decide whether or not I would ever tell anyone. For now these are all public accusations that have not gone through due process. But they are very serious ones. The way we respond matters. Our teenagers are watching.
 
If my daughters were ever assaulted---even by drunk teenage boys---I would hope that the message that we have continually sent them is that it matters. I would want them to know that they can speak up and that we would be their advocates. I would hope that no matter where they were, there would be other decent people who also know that it matters. I expect, and train, all of my children to be one of those decent people if they have the chance.
 
The thing is, this doesn’t just happen to teenagers at parties. These teenagers grow up internalizing the messages they have been receiving all around them. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo testimonies have revealed the consequences. I’ve kept this particular misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature and others to myself because I didn’t want my personal history posted on social media. But I have brought it up twice in conversation with others this week regarding the Kavanaugh accusations precisely because they weren’t talking about whether or not they were true. They were talking about whether or not it even matters. “That’s just the way things were” or “why are we surprised that a teenage boy tried to make a move on a girl at a party”? It doesn’t matter; they were teenagers. “We were stupid teenagers too. By God’s grace we aren’t like that anymore.” How long are we going to continue to downplay abuse?
 
My question is (besides the obvious one regarding whether you’ve committed a felony sexual assault as Kavanaugh is being accused), has God’s grace matured us merely to have better adult behavior or to also care about all who are made in his image?
Posted on Monday, September 03, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
My last article lamented the lack of published evangelical Christian female academics, as well as the gulf that we have between academia and ordinary layperson. I incorporate the work of different female academics in my own work, and often highlight them on the blog. Here are some I have featured before:
 
Christine Pohl, here and here
Michelle Lee-Barnewall, here and here
Sara Moslener, here and here
 
Today I want to briefly introduce Linda Cohick’s, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians. What I really appreciate about this book is that her work offers a comprehensive picture of women during this time, especially due to what I call the “in between the lines” research she offers. 
 
History has taught us about the extreme subjugation of women in Greco-Roman patriarchal culture. Likewise, we see the accepted opinions of the Jewish rabbis in the first century recorded in the Mishnah, such as the popular Eliezer ben Hyrcanus’, “The words of the Torah should be burned rather than entrusted to women” (JT Sotah 3:4, 19a). We know that the typical way things were set up was that the domestic sphere was the realm of the women, while the men were able to take the reins in the social sphere, conducting business and interactions outside of the home. 
 
And yet one of my biggest observations about Cohick’s book is how history teaches us that some things do not change---in between the lines history, that is. While we are more aware of what the literary documents and their attached ideologies and agendas say, Cohick couples this research with some of her own, looking at epigraphic, inscriptional, and archaeological remains to paint a fuller picture of the life of women during the time of the early church. And we see that in between the lines of the polemical work and ideologies, women are filling in with everyday contributions: relationally, vocationally, and even theologically. 
 
Cohick opens with her intentions for writing:
 
I do not intend to present here a theological argument that debates important issues concerning women in the contemporary church. Rather than make theological assessments about women’s ordination, for example---I leave that to church polity makers---my more modest intention is to provide and engaging and accurate reconstruction of ancient women’s way of life. (21)
 
One of the biggest themes in the book is that status trumps gender. So as Cohick gives us a thorough look at all the different vocations for women as daughters, wives, concubines, mothers, and in both gentile and Jewish religious activities, she examines the difference wealth and status make, also looking at the common life in slavery and prostitution, on one end, and benefactors and the institution of patronage, on the other. It is a fascinating study in which the reader sees how “Greco-Roman culture and Early Judaism were deeply penetrated by layers of social status. Not only legal categories of free, freed, and slave, but also relative wealth and pursuit of honor played major roles in determining the choices available to women. Thus a survey of women’s lives in the Greco-Roman world must consider issues of gender, class, status, and ethnicity to fully appreciate how women negotiated their local worlds” (22). This is just as true today. Whatever cultural codes and ideologies we live in, both secular and religious, there is often a much more complex story of life being lived in between the lines.
 
The book begins with the grim start for the less-desired births of Greco-Roman females, whose lives were in the hands of their father’s decision, often resulting in infanticide or abandonment. Abandoned baby girls were sometimes taken by other families and raised as slaves and/or prostitutes. The accepted daughter would be raised in her own family under the patriarchal expectations of the time, where she could be “both beloved by her family, and is a cause of great anxiety” (64). 
 
But the book ends with another picture that demonstrates how wealth and status can elevate a woman as a female benefactor who would “have a voice and an authoritative role in the community, granted to them without consideration of gender”:
 
For all its faults (noted by ancients themselves), the institution of patronage was in many respects gender-blind. As such, it allowed freedom of movement at most social levels for women to participate in the social, economic, and political environment without any cultural condemnation. Thus, while a woman might otherwise be stigmatized for speaking or acting publicly on economic, religious, or political matters, a patroness had liberty to exercise her ideas and interests with society’s blessings. (320)
 
This provides a clarifying lens as Cohick discusses Joanna (somewhat building off of Bauckham’s fascinating chapter in Gospel Woman, proposing Joanna and Junia the apostle may be the same person, Junia being the Latin name of the Hebrew, Joanna), Lydia, Phoebe, and Mary Magdalene. Her work on Paul’s embracing of reciprocity as the key aspect of patronage was God glorifying, fascinating, and enlightening. In Paul fashion, he turns the cultural model right-side-up, so that we see God as the “ultimate Patron, and all Christians as his clients. Thus to place himself in the socially inferior role of a client to the Romans is not threatening, for he is also on a mission for God, which counterbalances the social equation. So too with Phoebe---her benefaction does imply her socially superior status. But her role as emissary (deacon) for Paul and the church at Cenchreae mitigates the harshness of the asymmetrical relationship” (307).
 
Critically speaking, there were points of speculation, admittedly by the author; but all good, critical historians have to use their imaginations. Also, there were sections where it seemed Cohick painted a positive picture from in between the lines that were more exceptional discoveries than descriptions of life for everyday women. But her work has certainly expanded the view of women during the time of the early church and shows “rural women worked alongside men in caring for their animals, building their homes, and feeding their families” and that “slave women did all manner of work required in the home and in the market place; many worked as prostitutes.” She certainly does not “suggest an egalitarian paradise during the Greco-Roman period,” and succeeds in “encourage[ing] the reader’s imagination to think beyond the stylized snapshots of ancient women sequestered in cramped homes, barefoot and pregnant.” This line captures her work well:
 
I am not sanguine enough to think that we can recover women’s actual voices, but I remain confident that echoes of their heartaches and successes are recoverable. (324)
 
This is a historic, academic work, and therefore takes a bit more reading skill for that genre. It’s probably not going to go over well as the next suggestion for book club. But I highly recommend it for the informed reader who wants to dig deeper into the culture of the early church. And I plan to incorporate Cohick’s research into some of my own work as I try to bridge that gulf between the curious ordinary Christian reader in the pews and the academic life. 
Posted on Friday, August 31, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
 
I had the pleasure of being treated to lunch yesterday by a friend I haven’t seen in three years. We were struggling in one sense, as we wanted to hear about each other’s family, but had limited time and the conversation quickly steered to theological discoveries, which provoked more questions. My friend just completed seminary and is now diving deeper into Greek and Hebrew languages.  She mentioned how she longed to see more women encouraged to go to seminary and learn at that level. She had the opportunity to attend with her husband, and with her kids being older, was able to take advantage of that. One thing that she is painfully noticing is the lack of published female academics that she can use as resources for her papers. This took our discussion down many rabbit trails---ones with all kinds of rich landscape as well as painful recognition of brick walls and neglected terrain. We talked about what women can do after seminary, where and what they can teach, how the church is missing out when she doesn’t hear from half it’s members, and whether published women get read. I think a whole series of books could be written on these topics. But I’d like to comment further on another related trail we went down.
 
Our passion is for the church, and we lamented the fact that we live in a day when all kinds of resources are available to both men and women, and yet there is a large gulf between the academy and the layperson. I’m not an academic. I have a bachelor’s degree in education and art. And yet, I can benefit from the works of contemporary professors and other academics, as well as rich theological works from over a thousand years ago. But many laypeople do not take advantage of this, as there is such a gulf between popular level books that we are conditioned to read, and the well, sometimes painfully boring and abstract writing found in academic works. Even so, I have found plenty of engaging academic authors while also doing the work of sifting for gold in the less-engaging ones.
 
Sure, these authors need to write with precision, and their works are called academic for a reason. But there comes a time when we need to ask the question about the purpose of it all---is it for theological academics to always be talking to themselves? Sometimes, even often, yes, that is a good thing. Likewise, we expect medical doctors to talk in their language, and their exclusive academic studies and dialogues make advancements in the field that help us all. But the end game is to help patients and to provide preventative care for them. Medical doctors especially want to educate all the common folk in healthy living. 
 
This is the same with theology. There needs to be a place for academics to talk to themselves, but the point is for the trickle down from the academy into the church, right? Seminaries train pastors, authors, and many other leaders that are supposed to be investing in the church. Laypeople first get to receive the proclamation of the Word and the sacraments as our foundation for discipleship in the church. But this receiving comes with a responsibility. All of God’s people are responsible to be active traditioners of the faith. Learners become teachers, even if it is in an informal context.
 
In their book, The Pastor Theologian, authors and pastors Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson lament that with the rise of the academy, theologians and intellectuals tend to find their home in that atmosphere. They warn of a theology that has become ecclesially anemic, and of the church becoming theologically anemic. Timothy George opens the Foreword of the book with a quote from William Ames, “Theology is the knowledge of how to live in the presence of God” (7). This is not a mere intellectual quest. It shapes our everyday lives and it is an eternal matter. Hiestand and Wilson discuss the need for pastor theologians leading way for the church to close the gap. This is important. I also think that we need more academic writers and teachers, men and women, working with pastors and informed laypeople to stimulate the trickle down of rich theology. 
 
Speaking as a woman, it is a devastating failure for the church to see that the most popular Christian woman authors being read by laypeople, and even in women’s ministry groups, are often conditioning women in poor reading skills, terrible hermeneutics, and theological error. Is this the real trickle down effect? It’s easy for the more theologically minded to turn up our noses and to point out everything that is wrong with these authors. But it’s much more difficult to do the work to close the gap. 
 
This is the less-marketable atmosphere in which I have been trying to wade in. It’s a tough spot to navigate through. It’s even tougher to work in circles that supposedly promote complementarity between the sexes, and then keep women from contributing as conversation partners at the theological table, from speaking at coed conferences, or just don’t encourage them in higher theological learning and publication. Why are all of the women publishing good academic works egalitarian? And why are complementarians warned that it's dangerous to read them? Do we sound off alarms like this when it comes to other secondary doctrinal differences? These brick walls and neglected terrains are especially troubling when we look at the women with profound theological contributions in Scripture. In his book, Jesus Becoming Jesus, Thomas Weinandy points out that “Elizabeth could be the first Doctor of the Church”, as she “is the first to profess, by her words and actions, both the doctrine of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity.” Luke chooses to use the words of both Elizabeth and Mary to teach us rich theology. Elizabeth was able to speak profound theology in an incredibly memorable and fascinating greeting. And Mary showcases the Lord’s glory in doxology. Weinandy continues, “another woman, Mary Magdalene, will first proclaim that Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, is the risen Lord of glory” (25). Our richest doctrines of the faith were first proclaimed by women.
 
Paul calls many women co-laborers, naming four who “worked very hard” for the church in Rome (Romans 16:6, 12). This is how he describes his own ministry work in other contexts. We see that when Paul is led by the Spirit to Macedonia to preach the gospel, he finds a group of God-fearing women. He doesn’t ask where the men are; he evangelizes them and then plants the Philippian church with Lydia. Jesus invests in a Samaritan woman and she evangelizes a whole town. Wife and husband team, Priscilla and Aquila, pull Apollos aside for a little informal seminary-level training. These are but a few examples of men and women working together to evangelize and disciple with serious theology that transforms everyday lives---men and women closing the gap between the elite/educated and the common layperson to the glory of God.
 
We have the same Spirit now. And we live in a time where women have more rights and opportunities than ever. But how are things trickling down? Should women be doing less for the church now than they did in the first century? Should we be satisfied with being separated in our own ministries with unequipped teachers? Do we no longer belong in the world of rich, theological teaching that benefits the whole church? Shouldn’t we be an important part in closing the gap today?