Beyond Sex Roles By: Gilbert Bilezikian (A Book Review)

51S5QkNjeML._AC_US218_One of the marks of a good scholarly piece is that even when your opponents disagree with your main premise, they still appreciate the quality of your work.  This is exactly what I have noticed as I’ve perused book reviews on “Beyond Sex Roles” By: Gilbert Bilezikian on Goodreads and Amazon.  I’ve noticed that even though many people disagree with his conclusion, the majority have applauded him for his research, application, and writing techniques.

This book was lent to me by my pastor after a conversation surrounding the appropriate role of women in the church.  As many of you are aware, this is a topic I have been wrestling through for a few years and ultimately find confusing as both sides present good arguments for their beliefs.   Although I may not have agreed with everything that Bilezikian expounded on, his work definitely is one I would encourage any serious theologian to add to their collection.

One of the greatest assets of Bilezikian’s book is the care he takes in outlining God’s original intent for men and women.  Unlike many other authors who simply proof-text 1 Timothy 2:12, Bilezikian actually starts right at the beginning of the Genesis account, moves throughout the Old Testament, addresses women in leadership in the New Testament, and finally ends with the Apostle Paul’s instructions for a woman to be silent.

In his book, he begins by stating the verse, doing an exegesis of it, exploring the socio-historical culture, and providing a practical application for today.  Here are a few things that stood out to me in his writing:

#1: In the original creation account, Adam was formed first and then Eve.  Nevertheless, it was not until after the fall that God informed Eve that her desire would be for her husband and that he would “lord” it over her (Genesis 3:16).

The original intent in Scripture is for the man to be the head of the wife and to love her as Christ loves the church, whereas, the woman is called to submit to her husband.  But what exactly does this mean?

In English the word “head” often connotes “the person in charge” for example “the head of the board.”  However, in other languages like French, it does not have the same meaning.  Nevertheless, in this situation, the word “head” actually refers to a “life-source.”  For Eve (and therefore women) were taken from man (Adam) and therefore are a part of him. Yet, what sets Christianity apart from the pagan society of the day, is the care for which the man in this patriarchal setting would have shown to his wife.  Whereas, women in this culture were often seen as “second rate” and only useful as “baby machines”, men were taught to be servant leaders and both husbands and wives were instructed not to withhold conjugal rights from one another.  Furthermore, in the context of family, both mothers and fathers were to be obeyed and respected by their children.  The word used when Paul ordered children to OBEY their parents, is different than the word SUBMIT.  This is because although the woman is to give preference to her husband and to honour him, it does not lower her own status or infantilize her.

#2: Proponents of the complimentarian approach often have difficulty accepting a women in pulpit ministry, but what does the Bible have to say on this topic?

It is evident throughout both the Old and New Testament that women were useful for the ministry of the church in a variety of ways, including in public settings.  For example, both Testaments mention female Prophets (Miriam, Huldah, Deborah, Anna, Philip’s Four Daughters, etc.)  The interesting thing to note here is that the prophetic ministry at that time was something often included in a public worship setting.  The Apostle Paul himself noted that Prophesy was useful for the edification of the church, whereas tongues were merely useful for person edification (1 Corinthians 14:4).  Moreover, there is an injunction in 1 Corinthians 11:5 that a woman who is engaging in public prayer or prophesy must cover her head whereas a man is expressly requested not to.  According to Bilezikian as well as many other authors, this had to do with the cultural strictures of the day.  There are, of course, some churches like the Brethren who still wear head coverings, however, for the most part I have always found it ironic that churches which don’t allow a woman to preach are fine without the use of a head covering.  To me this is hypocrisy and merely a way of ensuring a patriarchal structure.

There are a few other notable women in the early church.  There is Priscilla who along with her husband Aquila served as a co-pastor and mentor to the Apostle Paul.  There are also mentions of female apostles including Junia who was considered “outstanding among the Apostles” (Romans 16:7).  In this time period, the apostolic ministry was one of teaching and pastoral authority.  In fact, an apostle was considered a higher rank than a pastor (almost like a bishop today).  Therefore, it is erroneous to believe that there would have been a female apostle but not a female pastor.

Lastly, there was the church leader, Tabitha who was so influential that upon her death, two men sent for the Apostle Peter to raise her up.  They were so saddened by this woman’s faith and virtue that no one else could have taken her place.  What a remarkable leader she must have been!

So how exactly do we live in this tension of the Biblical world, while also staying true to the Biblical text?  Here is a summary of Bilezikian’s beliefs:

Firstly, the original design in creation was for men and women to enjoy equal status to each other and to God.  Any form of male patriarchy is the result of the fall.  That being said, there is still a way Christ has redeemed it.  The husband is to be the “life-source” of his wife and to provide for her, whereas the wife submits to her husband not merely out of obedience but out of love.  At times, the husband and wife must submit to one another, showing preference and honouring the other.  Decisions need to be made in a mutually edifying way that give the man his rightful place not as “dictatorial ruler” but as loving authority figure.  Likewise, the wife must submit not out of childish obedience, but out of reverence and support.  Situations like we see so common in our day where the man abuses his rightful authority and uses it is a means to manipulate or harm a woman, twisting Scripture and even justifying his abuse, are the result of sin and the fall.  Instead, the Biblical mandate we see is that the husband is to “provide a source of life, of servanthood, and of growth.” (Bilzekian, 158).  This is taken from the statement in Ephesians 5:23-29, that “Christ is the head of the Church.  He is Himself the Saviour of the body.  Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.  No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it as Christ does the Church.” Bilezikian further notes, “the meaning of the head-body duality is not authority but reciprocity.  BECAUSE Christ is the wellspring of the Church’s life and provides it with existence and sustenance, in RETURN the Church serves Him in loving dependency and in recognition of Him as the source of its life.  In a similar manner, the head-body metaphor applied to the husband-and-wife relationships serves to emphasize their essential unity, deriving from creation.  Because man as the fountainhead of woman’s existence was originally used to supply her with her very life, and because he continues to love her sacrificially as his own body in marriage, in return a Christian wife binds herself up to her husband in a similar relationship of servant submission that expresses their oneness.” (161)  In this circumstance, Bilezikian acknowledges that “being subject to” or “submitting” is a “mutual (two-way process)” much different from the “unilateral (one-way subordination)” that would have been common in this time period (154).  That is to say, submitting out of love is not the same as the way a slave would “submit” to his master.  This is an important concept to grasp as many women wrongly feel that “submission” is a dirty-word and completely close their mind to the concept.  In Bilezikian’s own words “among spouses it is possible to submit without love, but it is impossible to love without submitting.” (168; cf. Col. 3:18-19)

Ultimately, Bilezikian provides this conclusion: Our life is so much more than the merely defined sex roles of the culture.  Yes, part of life is understanding what makes a man male or a woman female, but there is so much more than just what we see at the surface.  Regardless of gender or the associated roles placed on us by society or the church, each one of us is made as an image-bearer of God.  Thus, our personhood stems from the Holy Spirit and we are all called to represent Christ and the character traits that exemplify the Fruit of the Spirit (208).  It is only then that we will find lasting and full freedom.  Not in a man overexerting his influence and damaging women.   Not in a woman becoming a radical feminist and abusing men or ignoring their status. But rather in the two separate yet unified sexes coming together under the Cross of Christ in a glorious exchange of willing servitude and submission, in both men and women entering into a relationship with Christ which they seek to emulate in their marriage and public roles, and in shunning our cultural expectations in favour of heavenly ones in accordance with the original design laid out in Scripture.

 

Turning the Ground By Standing Still

squirrel-umbrella-rain-squirrelisimo-max-ellis-4 This blog post originally appeared at: http://www.stateofformation.org/2017/04/turning-the-ground-by-standing-still/. What follows is an expanded version of the first blog.

June has been a rather unpredictable month.  Generally speaking, the sun should be shining and we should be out wearing shorts, instead, all we get is a heavy dose of rain, cooling our land, and chilling me to the point of wearing a jacket.  When plans are cancelled due to inclement weather, it can be easy to be discouraged, however, sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective.  Previously, when I lived in Scotland, I learned to embrace the rain.  Over there, it rains nearly every day, and if I chose to stay indoors, I would have lost many sightseeing opportunities.  However, since returning home, I have noticed my outlook has shifted.  Now when it rains, I feel unmotivated.  I pull the covers over my head and will the day away.  Yet, if I am honest, I believe the attitudinal shift is the result of something deeper.  Some hidden longing, and perhaps some wish that life would return to what it was before.

For the past 10 months, I have been struggling with an unknown health condition.  For the past five years, I have given my life to disability ministries.  I have written and researched extensively on topics related to physical and mental health, I have advocated for churches to become more aware and inclusive of various needs within their congregation, and I have lobbied to end ableism in our culture.  Yet, I have done all of these things as an outsider.  I was truly invested in a more accessible world, but I had no personal understanding of what that would look like.  My ministry was shaped and informed by the various people with disabilities I frequently came into contact with.  Today, it is transformed by a more personal awareness of what it means to live with limitations and health struggles.

In my early twenties, I described myself as a “fun loving, energetic adventure seeker.”  To me, life was about the next big adrenaline rush.  It was about pushing my body to the limits, embracing life as a treasure box waiting to be opened.  Now, in my mid-twenties, if I were honest, it’s more like sluggishly getting through the day, going to doctors’ appointments, and trying to live with what very well could be my new reality.

It all started when I came back from Scotland.  I left Edinburgh excited about life.  It truly was a life-changing transformative experience, and one that I wished to prolong.  I made some rash comments about feeling led to come back more permanently.  What many people don’t realize is that I actually was given that opportunity. Twice.  However, just when I thought it was going to become a reality and my wish was going to be fulfilled, I turned it down.  Not because I wanted to, but because I was sick.

The first symptoms started appearing in early September.  I was still in the field with adults who have developmental disabilities and had to do quite a bit of strenuous physical work.  One day, I was doing a lift transfer into our wheelchair van when my arm suddenly became limp.  Thankfully, there was another worker there who helped remedy the situation.  I was shaken, but realized this was not the first time I had felt similar sensations in my arm.  Shaking it off, I thought it was just another fluke incident.  This ended up not being the case when a few days later I could barely even cut my food with a fork and knife.

I soon realized that many of the things I previously did, might not be able to happen anymore.  I resigned from my job, and moved home with my parents.  At that time, life seemed like anything but productive.  I tried to keep busy during the days.  I chose to volunteer with a few organizations and intern at a church.  I also decided to work on self-improvement and to meet new friends.  At first it was very difficult. My life has been founded on hyper-active preparation and I hate staying still.  However, I soon discovered that this was a gift.  We often lament having too much work to do, but when we are given a day off, we squander it.  There is nothing wrong with watching TV or Netflix, but it often is not the preparation we truly need.  Sometimes the reason our bodies give out is simply to teach us to listen to what they are saying.  Sometimes the reason we can’t go further is because we need to learn how to rest.

These last four months have been a challenge.  I have moved away from home and started a new position as a children’s pastor.  Working with kids is wonderfully life giving, but also difficult when you physically don’t have the stamina to constantly run around.  I’ve had to learn to adapt many activities so that the kids still have high energy games, but so that I can conserve my own strength.

In many ways, it’s made me more aware of kids with various health needs.  I sometimes think about the activities we have planned.  There are children I know of in the church who don’t attend these events.  Some of them use wheelchairs or other assistive devices, are visually impaired, or have other physical limitations.  It is ironic that I am championing for inclusion and that my greatest passion is for disability awareness, and yet, there are some individuals who probably couldn’t partake in everything I plan.

Sometimes I find it difficult to really know what I share with my church or with the kids.  Yet I have begun asking myself what children’s ministry really is all about.  Is it only about planning fun games and activities, or could the kids benefit from a bit more vulnerability on my part?  Could it encourage the kids to know we can pray for anything – even physical healing – even if that healing does not always come right away?

Currently, I am reminded of the story of the woman with the issue of blood.  She had an illness for many years with no respite.  The Bible tells us she had seen various doctors and specialists, tried many different medications and treatments, and yet each time became more discouraged.  This has been an example of a time when the Bible has really come to life for me, because I feel like currently I am that woman.  In the last 6 months alone, I have visited 5 different doctors, two specialists, and am on the waiting list for 2 others.  I have done various tests and am surprised I have any veins left.  But through it all, I remember, that all I really need is a touch from God.  Sometimes that touch might come through medical intervention, science, and technology, it would be great if it did.  Yet sometimes the real touch does not come through physical healing, but through an inner conscious awakening of the Holy Spirit urging us to know that He is God even when our minds and our bodies rebel against this notion.  Sometimes the real touch from God is not in what doctors know, but in being okay with the unknown –placing ourselves into God’s hands, and allowing Him to turn the soil by being still.

Collisions, Chaos, and Change (Book Review: Detour: A Roadmap for When Life Gets Rerouted By: Cam Taylor )

51JuZtWmgOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ The problem with opposition is that it often hits us blindsided when we are least expecting it.  No one anticipates that word from the doctor, that marital affair, that job loss, or that financial crash, so when those storms hit, our first instinct is to lament, to curse, to be frustrated, and to blame anyone and anything we can get our hands on.  Bad luck.  Our spouse.  Our circumstances.  The government.  The economy.  God.  Yet, rewiring our brains to turn opposition into opportunity and crisis into consolation is the exact discipline that will get us through those circumstances with the least amount of pain and loss.

Cam Taylor’s story is one of a personal journey dealing with the health struggles, emotional impact, and sense of loss he and his wife, Vicky, faced after a traumatic motorcycle accident.  The scene is one all too familiar, and for those of us who have been involved in accidents, it cuts close to home.  On a bright sunny day, the perfect temperature for riding, with few clouds in sight, Cam and Vicky set off for a nice ride through the West Coast terrain.  Yet what promised to be an enjoyable and relaxing time, suddenly turned into a whirlwind of ambulance rides, hospital stays, surgeries, and permanent life adjustments.

In this book, Cam takes an interesting approach which I have seldom seen before despite having reviewed many books on disability awareness for his story is not only confined to his own experiences, but also provides coaching and a listening ear to those who find themselves in similar circumstances.  Each chapter provides a timely quote, a brilliant illustration, a personal anecdote, and questions to consider, reflect on, and discuss.  His book does not provide “pat, easy answers,” but rather challenges its readers in a fresh and profound way to truly wrestle with the emotional and psychological (as well as physical) impacts a life-altering event can have.

What I appreciated the most about Cam’s writing is his honesty and vulnerability.  His desire to show himself the way he truly was and is, and his passion to see others changed and positively influenced by his work.  It is evident throughout Cam’s writing that he is a man of humility – not writing for self-promotion, but to give God glory.

From a personal and devotional approach, his book is inspiring and helpful in drawing out some of the key themes in Scripture including perseverance, discipleship, and counting the cost.  From a purely disability angle, his book is helpful in explaining the physical repercussions of a damaging experience and the practical ways we can help someone in this predicament (both through being open to hearing stories and providing emotional support and by doing those little “odd jobs” that may be left out such as lawn care).  For this reason, it is both from a pastoral as well as a disability inclusion standpoint that I highly recommend this book to you.  I guarantee it will make a brilliant edition to any home or church library and could even be including in seminaries and Bible colleges.

Another great resource that Cam provides is his Detour Journal.  Many of us know the benefits of journaling.  I personally have kept a journal since the time I was a young child, and it has indeed been helpful as I look back upon some of my more stressful experiences and how God has brought me out of them.  However, whether you are a seasoned journaller, new to this spiritual discipline, or just eager to try it out for the first time, this spiral notebook will help you maintain a rich and deep writing life.  Each page has a timely quote, space for personal reflection, and journal prompts.  If you aren’t much of a writer, don’t despair because as Cam notes, journaling can also be achieved through drawing, doodling, or mind maps.

I hope that both of these resources will be a blessing in your life and help you to see God’s hand over you even in the midst of trials and storms.  It was a real privilege for me to be on Cam’s book launch team and I look forward to seeing how this book will continue to impact the lives of many for the Kingdom of God.

For more information or to purchase your own copy of “Detour: A Roadmap for When Life Gets Rerouted” please visit Cam Taylor’s website at: https://camtaylor.net/detour/