A Sexist Gospel?

In the Women’s Bible Commentary, Jane Schaberg argues that Luke is dangerous because of its portrayal of women. Here’s a brief except from this commentary:

The Gospel of Luke is an extremely dangerous text, perhaps the most dangerous in the Bible. Because it contains a great deal of material about women that is found nowhere else in the Gospel, many readers insist that the author is enhancing or promoting the status of women… The danger lies in the subtle artistic power of the story to seduce the reader into uncritical acceptance of it as simple history, and into acceptance of depicted gender roles as divinely ordained.

St. David’s Episcopal Church stained glass (James Mcgahey)

While it seems as though Luke tells of a radically egalitarian community, Schaberg posits that this is not the case once considering the details of the narrative. Ultimately, men play the most integral roles in the storyline. Disciples such as Peter are well-developed and named. The twelve male disciples are key characters to the gospel. Furthermore, the entire Acts narrative is largely oriented towards the activities and journeys of (male) characters like Paul and the apostles throughout the Mediterranean world.

On the other hand, women are supposedly cast off as secondary and minor characters. For example, while women are included among Jesus’ followers in Luke 8, they are not given names or identities. It appears as though Luke-Acts itself actually affirms the patriarchal system in which it was written in. While women may become followers of Jesus, they are essentially secondary beings and ultimately insignificant in comparison to their male counterparts. Schaberg asserts that women in Luke are praised for being submissive and quiet. In other words, while a “quick reading” of the narrative appears to affirm the dignity and role of women in the mission of Jesus, at closer inspection do more oppressive elements surface.

This charade of egalitarianism carries dire consequences for contemporary times. If this understanding is to be taken as normative, then women today must be nameless, secondary, and even submissive in contrast to the superiority of men. Likewise, Luke is indeed dangerous in that such interpretations may be used to systematically discriminate women.

Schaberg’s argument is quite similar to two other feminist scholars, Esther Fuchs and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Fuchs examines how women have been portrayed in the Hebrew bible and ultimately argues that there is a systematic erasure of women. Instead of receiving commendation for their acts of prophecy and heroism (as Moses, Isaiah, and the like receive), the roles of people like Deborah and Miriam are essentially minimized. While Fuchs does not deal with Christian texts in her erasure argument, this directly correlates to the situation and depiction of women in Luke. Additionally, Schüssler Fiorenza, focusing in on early church history, approaches texts through a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” This is especially helpful when considering how patriarchal cultures portray women in their sacred texts. Likewise, there must be a cautionary hesitation on part of the reader when studying a narrative such as Luke-Acts. The supposed message of equality does not necessary result in proper praxis. Instead of unquestionably assuming an egalitarian ideal, Schaberg and other feminist scholars are more critical of this matter. Luke may potentially prove dangerous to contemporary readers with its submissive and silenced depiction of the second sex.

I somewhat agree with Schaberg in her criticism, though her argument must meet further qualification for my support. My partial criticism is twofold:

  • I would like to note that this issue must be considered a significant hermeneutical matter. In other words, criticism of this gospel in-and-of-itself is groundless. This is because texts are inherently flexible. Readers must form interpretation and craft meaning once encountering scripture. Authorial intent and the “real Jesus” or the “real Luke” are ambiguous matters. I think Schaberg constructs a sort of dummy-argument by attacking the abstract essence of “Luke.”
  • This text contains its own historical context. The way in which Schaberg criticizes the nature of the Lukan narrative is cause for hesitation. Holding texts and other cultures accountable to our contemporary westernized understanding of liberal egalitarianism fails to recognize that history and culture are both evolving processes. While some readings of Luke may appear to us modern day readers as potentially sexist, I argue that Luke would read quite differently given a less egalitarian era. Historical insight into the text does prove valuable in this critical issues. In sum, with characters such as Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna, Luke may have actually been one of the most radical messages for its time. One must also beware of a “hermeneutics of paranoia” in this manner.

Once considering my initial hesitation, I would argue that certain interpretations of Luke can be dangerous. While this revised statement is similar to Schaberg’s argumentation, these qualifications are necessary. The danger lies not in Luke itself, but with where our hermeneutics may take us–could this be used to advance complementarianism, or is Luke liberative?

Personally, I have found the Gospel of Luke to be highly profound, from the traditional focus of Jesus as healer to its truly revolutionary message. Schaberg’s arguments are worth considering, but I do believe that this gospel is a bit more radical than most people expect.

Naive Christianity

This coming Sunday morning, millions of prayers and words of praise will be offered up in worship services. The sacramental church will recite Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. The Baptist church will thank God for atoning us through the blood of Christ. The charismatic church will proclaim the powerful, transforming presence of the Spirit in our world.

Words have incredible power. For example, calling a spouse beautiful affirms that individual’s worth. In this sense, naming things creates meaning for our lives. Words create, mend, and sustain our relationships with others. The opposite is true: calling someone worthless can fracture entire worlds and persons. Instead of developing a connection with someone, we can become distant and detached.

More specifically with Christian belief, this word-deed relationship is crucial for how we relate to and experience God and world. Anabaptist theology is particularly profound in this manner–namely that because Jesus lived the way of love, we in the here-and-now are to embrace non-violence in all that we do. Praying in the name of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, in my opinion, carries dynamic potential as God begins to shape our lives and actions to look like Jesus. Words are formative, even if they are indeed “abstract.”

But I recognize that this is oftentimes not the case for Christianity. We who pray in Jesus’ name will leave the church service to return our “real-world” lives. Sure, hymns or praise songs provide personalized comfort, but faith is commonly limited to the pews, a Christian radio station, or a daily devotional done by ourselves. We water down the thy kingdom come of the Lord’s prayer, especially considering that right now, tens of thousands of vulnerable children from Latin American countries are caught up in a border crisis, bearing the brunt of political games and apathy.


There’s a massive disconnect between what may be spoken in the sanctuary on Sunday morning and what we see in our broken world. Whether using the Church as a crutch or simply wanting to distance ourselves from the bad events of the world, naivety can wiggle its way into our thinking.

Lee C. Camp shares this powerful story in Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World:

One winter in the early 1970s, nearing Christmas, my father-in-law was working as a reporter for WSM television in Nashville. Having just completed a story at the state capitol building, he heard a call on his scanner: a “10-52-64,” the “10-52,” he told me, indicating someone had been shot, and the “10-64″ indicating someone was dead. The location of the scene of the apparent crime was but a few miles away, in a public housing complex, where the police had discovered an elderly man dead in his apartment. But as they began to investigate, it turned out that the original suspicion was all wrong. There had been no shooting. Instead, the man did not have electricity, and so had frozen to death. What had originally been thought to be a gun wound was no gun wound at all, but the wound from a rat gnawing on the old man’s body. As my father-in-law exited the apartment complex, he happened to see the glow emitted from a sign, perched for the Christmas holidays atop one of Nashville’s high-rises, announcing “Peace on Earth.”

Such an event serves as a parable for a compartmentalized grace: the heartwarming religious message, “peace on earth,” that somehow never gets connected to the real world of a poverty-stricken old man.

Peace on earth. Jesus is risen. Christ died for you sins. O Lord, make haste to help us. God loves you.

How do these proclamations relate to the poverty-stricken old man? How do they relate to the illegal immigrant fleeing from violence and instability?

Given the reality that we worship a savior who suffered, I think they relate in an inseparable way. These aren’t just words. God can awaken us and shape us to see them become reality, or on earth as it is in heaven, as someone once said.

patriotic worship

I would say that Ephesians 6:12 is one of the most overlooked verses of the entire New Testament:

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Other translations will use word like principalities and powers to articulate what the battle is all about. In other words, this could be interpreted to mean that we must fight against systems and cosmic powers, not fellow human beings.

A primary temptation of patriotism is to make our struggle against blood and flesh. People are heralded as redemptive saviors, like FDR or Reagan. This or that flag or institution gives life to the people, being the objects of our ultimate devotion. Conversely, others are demonized and depicted as the ultimate possible enemy. Divisiveness runs rampant in nationalist sentiments.


With July 4th this week, I think worship this Sunday can be dicey. Should the American flag be on display? At what point do our “God bless America’s” end up elevating a country over the Kingdom of God? Regarding military service, our respect for veterans usually consists of an attaboy/girl, rather than addressing the chronic problems created by the horrors of war. Of course we may enjoy certain freedoms as citizens of the United States, but are these freedoms the end-goal of faith? Or is there something more?

The hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers” may obviously rub people the wrong way, especially considering rhetoric to underwrite military conquests–whether with the crusades or recent global conflicts. I do recognize that militant imagery can potentially create greatly murky theology. But the third verse of this hymn contains a great deal of truth:

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,

but the church of Jesus constant will remain.

Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;

we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.

Our hope is not in a flag or a government. We may benefit from political organizations, but these rise and fall. Only Christ’s church remains. Only Christ is worthy of our worship.

I’ll leave you with some words from Greg Boyd, who has written extensively over these kinds of political issues:

I appreciate that America recognizes my rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ but there is nothing distinctly Kingdom about these rights. They’re nowhere to be found in the Bible. To the contrary, as a follower of Jesus I’m called to surrender my rights to life, liberty and happiness, and instead submit to the will of God. These rights are noble on a political level, but they can get in the way of my call to seek first the Kingdom. I’m grateful America extends these rights to people, for most countries throughout history have not. But my sole allegiance is to the heavenly Kingdom that calls me to surrender my rights. If I get too concerned with an earthly country that frees me to pursue my rights, my healthy patriotism becomes idolatrous. I’ve put my country’s ideals before God.

Protestant Stereotypes: Southern Baptists, Gospel Coalition, Anabaptists, Methodists, and Episcopals

Here is a humorous graphic inspired by another created by Saji George and St. Thomas the Doubter Church (click to enlarge):


Helpful links:

  • Methodists seen by Gospel Coalition: Pelagius, every Calvinist’s favorite straw man
  • Episcopals seen by Gospel Coalition: Rachel Held Evans, writer extraordinaire and every Calvinist’s favorite straw woman
  • Methodists seen by Anabaptists: Reinhold Niebuhr, the patron saint of mainline Christian politicians
  • Episcopals seen by Anabaptists: Henry VIII, meddler with the kingdoms of this world
  • Gospel Coalition seen by Methodists: Hank Hill, “Reborn to be Wild” King of the Hill episode
  • Methodists seen by Methodists: Nelson Mandela, possible Methodist
  • Gospel Coalition seen by Episcopals: Mark Driscoll, hard-hitting MMA aficionado
  • Methodists seen by Episcopals: Fake UMC District Superintendent, “competent” leader and relevant with the young folk

Bonhoeffer on Authority


‘Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister’ (Mark 10:43). Jesus made authority in the fellowships dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christian community. The desire we so often hear expressed today for ‘episcopal figures,’ ‘priestly men,’ ‘authoritative personalities’ spring frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of [people], for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive. There is nothing that so sharply contradicts such a desire as the New Testament itself in its description of a bishop (1 Tim. 3:1ff.). One finds there nothing whatsoever with respect to worldly charm and the brilliant attributes of a spiritual personality. The bishop is the simple, faithful [person], sound in faith in life, who rightly discharges [his or her] duties to the Church. [His or her] authority lies in the exercise of [ministry]. In the [person] there is nothing to admire.

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

This jumped off the page for me the other day when thinking about servant leadership. It’s easy to assume domineering qualities as a logical necessity for church leadership, whether seeing church as a “business” or developing a cult-personality around a particular pastor. Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed this years ago, and I still think this rings true today. Cult-devotion seems to be more indicative of our surrounding culture than what we find in the New Testament.

Sure, we may profess that God uses, shapes, and transforms us for ministry, regardless of personal stature. But do we really believe this? Or do we assume a co-divinity of episcopal figures, priestly men, and authoritative personalities?

A world of “if only’s”: homosexuality and the UMC


This past week the Texas Annual Conference met for Annual Conference 2014 (yes, I know that sounds redundant for all you non-Methodists out there!). The proposed resolutions, all of which failed to pass, included several key changes and recommendations regarding the UMC’s stance on homosexuality. A concise summary of this direction is found within 1.A:


A broad summary and full-text version of these resolutions can be found here. This shift in approach would have changed the way the church handles anything from ordination to the contents of the UMC’s Book of Discipline.

I’ve mostly shied away from discussing hot-button issues on this blog, mostly because I feel like conversations along these lines end up sounding like “60 Second Soapboax” from comedian Tim Heidecker. Rarely will I read anything that delves deeper than your typical news network rhetoric. Most of the time either camp develops a straw person argument in order to condemn the other side. Likewise, we have Fox News and MSNBC Christianity contending for the most power and influence. These kinds of discussions do not usually sit well with my aim to explore strange Christianity.

You have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the supposed crisis facing many denominations in Western Christianity. Membership drops, attrition is a huge issue, and multiple generations seem disinterested in the church. Some lament the death of Christendom while others see this as a necessary purge to establish the church as a minority community in post-Christian culture. Many people genuinely believe that if only their agenda were implemented, then a good portion of this crisis would be solved. Whether that agenda includes attractional worship, liberal activism, or biblical literalism, it all depends on your dispositions and the amount of power you have.

Some of the tweets from the #txac thread last week supported this way of thinking. Confessing Movement folks posit that once the church actually “stands up” for something, whether that be for holiness or the Discipline, then the church will obtain reputability. Reconciling folks see exclusive language as the largest barrier facing the church’s effectiveness.

If only we would stand by the Discipline. Or if only we would change it…

…Then ministry could really happen.

This hypothetical is highly tempting. It is incredibly easy to rest in the apathy of future potential. Most of the time our “What If’s” do not require any significant sacrifice on our camp’s part. We want the other person to adapt and change, because we have it figured out. Having opinions about controversial issues like abortion or homosexuality is indeed important in many circumstances, but to confine ministry to these areas is gravely misguided. Regardless of whether or not any supposed resolutions pass, what about addressing other systemic problems facing the church, those of which transcend contemporary marketable issues? Here are a few noteworthy, (and in my opinion) prophetic criticisms of the contemporary church:

  • Alan Hirsch notes that Western Christianity largely tames and restricts members through perpetuating a strict clergy/laity dichotomy. Compare this to the Early Church and other contexts where Christianity is under direct oppression and thus exists as a movement of the people.
  • In The Economy of DesireDaniel Bell questions our unwavering devotion to capitalism above the Cross. We commonly idolize this economic system.
  • Lorenza Andrade Smith shines light on our systematic bias against impoverished and homeless persons. Classism is an issue in which we are uncomfortable with, especially in a land of “equal opportunity.”

The above three are only the tip of a gigantic iceberg of problems that would not exactly be solved through either the passage or blockage of resolutions. I recognize that I am privileged in many ways as a heterosexual, married male–especially regarding the resolutions with the TAC. But it’s worth noting that every community has its demons to deal with, regardless of wherever we find ourselves on the progress ladder. It’s easy to fall into the excitement of sensational issues, but in doing so we sometimes develop tunnel vision.

neo-calvinist relationships

This old-school graphic and clever acronym summarizes the 5 points of Calvinism, a theological viewpoint developed by John Calvin during the Protestant Reformations. I thought about typing out some more about this, but I found a succinct description of each point on this theopidia article that cited several primary sources. Simply take the Calvinist resurgence today and you have neo-calvinism.

Danny Silk is a pastor at Bethel Church in California. He has extensive material providing advice on relationships and communication. On a lesson titled “The 90/10 Factor” in his Defining the Relationship series, Silk argues for 90% and 10% ratio applicable to each sex. Male “needs” can be classified as 90% sexual and 10% emotional, while female “needs” are 10% sexual and 90% emotional. “Men have testosterone pumping through their veins and were designed that way on purpose. It’s not evil!” says Silk in the workbook, and then says something about “feminine” estrogen for females.

While Silk might not really be as well-known as all of those guys running the Resurgence website or organizations like The Gospel Coalition, I think his viewpoint is pretty consistent with what you find in mainstream neo-calvinism today. I’ve heard it said several times that “Guys are just wired a certain way… it’s not bad… it’s how we were created!” Likewise, men and women are argued to have some very distinct and separate responsibilities (re: complementarianism), where it is possible that each sex is actually prohibited from doing certain things (here are some of my brief thoughts on this specific issue). Passages like 1 Timothy 2 are usually referenced with confidence in these discussions (“Men ought to do this… and women should do that“).

I think this approach to sexuality has some serious problems. I feel pretty confident in summarizing neo-calvinism and also raising this challenge because I have been around these circles off-and-on over the years. In other words, I’m not simply looking this stuff up on Wikipedia, I’ve actually experienced this viewpoint and have been surrounded by people who adamantly favor it. At one time or another, I’ve actually embraced some of it wholeheartedly. My senior year of high school I used to attend a weekly service where the pastors were avid disciples of Calvin, Sproul, and the like. For over three years I was also on a college campus with many revivalist and Acts 29-type movements with new Bible studies forming each year or semester. I am not trying to provide a caricature of this.

Is it “unbiblical” or “unchristian” if a guy or girl were to not adhere to this “90/10 Factor?” Should this be considered the norm in male/female relationships? This strikes me as a subtle justification or even acceptance of hyper-sexualization where it’s assumed that this is “just how things are.” I don’t think that arguing that men are simply visual creatures helps anything and would be incredibly untenable. Isn’t it odd how a gender dichotomy is oftentimes unquestionably perpetuated by the church? Forgive me for the huge generalization, but guys are oftentimes encouraged to watch Braveheart while girls do studies on only Proverbs 31 (or maybe Ruth). It does seem as though the concepts of “masculinity” and “femininity” oftentimes directly mirror our surrounding culture.

Think about it.

Let’s say a Christian guy hears this testosterone-driven “90/10″ narrative. In this story, he hears that his so-called “masculine” sex-obsessive impulses are absolutely 100% OK. Despite possible constraints given by spiritual mentors (i.e. sex must be pure, you should get married, and don’t make out too much before then? etc.), wouldn’t it be easy for him to mentally justify objectifying women? And perhaps even his future wife? After all, isn’t it argued that he is just created that way? That he mainly should be communicating love through sexual activity with his spouse? Would he be abnormal if he did not fit into this narrative? In this sense, complementarianism makes me extremely uncomfortable. When we read of the love outlined in the stories of Jesus and pictures of marriage in the Bible, I’m extremely hesitant to force everything into either feminine or masculine categories. The submission, surrender, and compassion of Christ seem to point to a lot more than relationships of sex/emotion dichotomies. It appears as though we have a completely different conception of power in the Gospels.

Needless to say, I may be too harsh on my neo-calvinists brothers and sisters. Of course you are going to find quite a lot of encouragement for couples to be respectfully open and transparent about different needs. Danny Silk in his series talks a bit about this. To paraphrase some of his Defining the Relationship material, couples should always be in constant communion and communicate one’s thoughts and views with one another. This is not something that should be taken lightly.

I’ll leave it up to you whether or not the urge for egalitarian communication trumps the sexual : male :: emotional : female stereotype. In my opinion, the human self is a lot more complex and interconnected than what you’ll find in illustrations like this. Additionally, there is much more to consider in the bible with verses like Galatians 3:28, passages like Genesis 2, contextualizing 1 Timothy, and exploring possible Judaic understandings of marriage.