Response to the Review of Women Serving God in the Christian Chronicle (July, 2021)

June 27, 2021

I thank Renée Sproles for taking the time and energy to write a brief notice of my recent book Women Serving God. Her review appeared in the July 2021 issue of the Christian Chronicle. I appreciate her attentive effort to summarize and raise questions about it. I welcome such engagement.

I appreciate Renée’s sensitivity to the difficulties of a “no participation” (traditional) view. She recognizes that the restrictions found in many traditional churches are inconsistent with New Testament practices, and those practices have been personally frustrating to her. I share her commitment to a “way of doing church that honors God and embraces revealed freedoms.”

Many other women have found traditional practices frustrating as well. Women Serving God contains essays by Claire Davidson Frederick, Jantrice Johnson, Lauren Smelser White, and Bethany Joy Moore. They not only offer their own theological perspectives but share their own stories about growing up in churches of Christ.

At the same time, I think there are some insufficiently nuanced statements in the review. I do recognize an economy of words was necessary for such a brief piece where she intends to fairly express what insights the book has as well as her dissatisfaction with its conclusion. Understandably, she abbreviates points in order to meet the word limit she was given. Her task was a difficult one as brevity always is. I have more space in my blog response than she did in her published article. That, I hope, tempers my own remarks.

Nevertheless, I take this opportunity to respond to a few points, though neither her review nor my response can substitute for reading the book as well as her book entitled On Gender or the dialogue between Renew and myself through multiple blogs.

I will begin with her final paragraph. Her final question is: “what would our churches look like if we submitted to God’s revealed Word, taking advantage of our freedoms, and submitting to its boundaries?” I answer: it would look great!

I affirm the question and its sentiment. That is the purpose of my book: to identify the freedoms and boundaries in order to submit to the teaching of God’s word. I fear her question might insinuate that I am not interested in that agenda, but I trust Sproles recognizes that I, too, seek the same goal.

She is exactly correct that much of the problem lies within us as we presuppose certain perspectives about gender or patriarchy. That is why I wrote the book. I want to submit to God’s word just as much as Sproles does. We share this common interest and goal.

We both recognize that commands and instructions are embedded in occasional documents that address culturally situated contexts. For example, the command to greet one another with a holy kiss–a command that occurs more often than any seeming restrictions of women in the biblical text–is culturally embedded. This does not mean that culturally embedded commands are inherently relative. Rather, the commands address the readers in those contexts because they arose from a theology grounded in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They are not simply cultural, though they are articulated within a culture. They are expressions of theological values rooted in God’s own life and identity, and they reveal the will of God. We read Scripture in order to listen to God’s voice and learn God’s will. The question is: how do we identify those values and apply them in our contemporary contexts? The search is not for “nuggets” (I never use that word in my book) but a pattern of divine activity that calls us to participate in the mission of God.

Paul says, “man is the head of woman.” I affirm that. The question is, what does Paul mean? What is the meaning of his metaphorical use of “head”? Whatever it means, Paul affirms women who pray and prophesy in the assembly as long as their own heads are covered. I offer a brief opinion as to what Paul might mean (which should not be reduced to a simple “source” understanding, though that is shorthand for a range of perspectives), but I neither stress it nor make an argument based on the meaning of “head.” This is not a major concern of mine in this book because whatever headship means, it does not delimit woman from audibly and visibly participating in the assembly, according to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Sproles and I agree that Paul authorizes women to audibly and visibly pray and prophesy in the worshipping assemblies of Corinth.

It is perplexing that Sproles believes the restrictive texts are more facil than difficult given the history of their interpretation. Indeed, the “limited participation” view has a wide diversity within its own advocates. Some believe women may lead worship (or singing), prayer, read Scripture, offer testimonies in a worshipping assembly, share the pulpit with a male leader in the assembly, or offer communion talks from the pulpit as well as teach Bible classes that include men. Others oppose some, if not most, of these practices. Sproles affirms some kind of “limited participation” perspective, though I am not sure where she draws the line on some of these practices. She does believe only men are to do the authoritative teaching in the assembly (and in other spaces?).

Ironically, the defense and practice of “limited participation” only emerged with any significance in the 19th century (by the earliest women itinerant preachers, in fact), and the interpretations of the restrictive texts that permitted this were not widely promoted until the late 20th century (particularly through authors like Grudem, Piper, and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). The interpretations offered for “limited participation” are new interpretations. They are neither ancient nor traditional. In other words, few understood these texts as permitting “limited participation” in a worshipping assembly until the last 150 years or so. Perhaps outside pressures influenced and moved people to create a new interpretation that is now called “soft complementarianism.” That highlights the difficulty in understanding these texts, whether or not limited participation is correct. I don’t think, however, the “limited participation” view is the best understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12.

These texts, particularly 1 Timothy 2:12, have been used to forbid women from voting in political elections, teaching in higher education, sitting on boards, voting in church business meetings, teaching eleven year old baptized males, teaching the Bible to any men under any circumstance, leading their husbands in prayer, baptizing men, eight year old girls from addressing a group of several men (including their fathers), pre-adolescent girls from picking up attendance cards, making announcements, or offering testimonies in the assembly, etc. I could continue this list if I wanted to use the space (some lists have over 100 items). Such applications indicate these texts have never been simple. The interpretations have been widely debated over the last 100 years unless one wants to return to a “no participation” view where, historically, women were not even permitted to sing in public worshipping assemblies during most of the Medieval period.

1 Timothy 2:8-15 is a difficult text. 1 Timothy 2:12 has at least twelve different possible interpretations, and Paul’s rationale in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 has at least six different possible interpretations. Even Renew’s article on 1 Timothy characterizes their understanding of the text as one which “likely means that women should not be in a teaching role” (my emphasis). “Likely” reflects some uncertainty or at least credible doubt, and this accentuates its difficulty.

Sproles asks, “How can Galatians 3:28…be a seed text to overturn male-female distinctions in the worship since Paul, who proudly co-ministered with women, writes to Timothy in a later letter affirming gender distinctions, even grounding them in creation order?” In response, I would say, because 1 Timothy 2 does not mean what Sproles thinks it means, and Paul is not grounding his thought in a hierarchical creation order. I answer her question in the book. One may not agree with my interpretation, but the answer to Sproles’s question is fairly straightforward: Paul does not mean what Sproles thinks he means.

Moreover, I never describe Galatians 3:28 as a “seed text” as my own view, though I did use it once in reference to a broad view of “full participation” when outlining three major positions at the beginning of the book. For myself and in my argument, however, I do not claim Galatians 3:28 is a seed text. Rather, it is consistent with Paul’s theology throughout his writings and applied to varied situations. Paul calls women to fully utilize their gifts within the assembly and the church, which expresses their status as co-heirs with men, just as the enslaved are called to fully utilize their gifts as co-heirs with free peoples with the faith community.

If Genesis 1 teaches a shared vocation and identity, and Genesis 2 teaches complementarity with differentiation without hierarchy, then servant leadership is mutual. Paul affirms this mutuality rather than excluding women from participation in the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). Godly male leadership is present across the testaments and so is godly female leadership (Miriam led the congregation in worship, Deborah judged Israel, Huldah proclaimed the word of the Lord to the king’s representatives and the High Priest, and Esther instituted a new festival and commanded Israel to keep it).

I do appreciate that one can read my book and be left unsatisfied. I understand that. I do not expect everyone to agree. Everyone will have to do their own assessment after reading the book for themselves.

I wrote the book to begin a discussion. One of its first fruits has been the dialogue between myself and Renew. I think it has been a healthy discussion, and I invite everyone to read it.

Thanks for your review, Renée. I appreciate your commitment to the word of God and your desire to submit to it.

May God give disciples of Jesus peace, wisdom, and discernment.


Women and the Bible: Notes on Ecclesiastes 7:23-29

June 4, 2021

The NRSV reads (my two translation adjustments are in brackets):

All this I have tested by wisdom; I said, “I will be wise,” but [she] was far from me. 24 That which is, is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? 25 I turned my mind to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the sum of things, and to know that wickedness is folly and that foolishness is madness. 26 I found more bitter than death the woman who is a trap, whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters; one who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 See, this is what I found, says the Teacher, adding one thing to another to find the sum, 28 which my mind has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made human beings [upright], but they have devised many schemes.

This text has been used as an example of the Bible’s (or, at least, this particular author’s) misogyny. While some suggest that we should not be surprised that the “Teacher” would hold pessimistic and/or misguided views of humanity, I think a misogynistic reading is a misunderstanding of what the Qoheleth is doing in this critical juncture in the book’s argument.

This is a significant moment in the book where an unfulfilled search is emphasized (“I did not find what I was looking for but only found something more bitter than death itself”) as well as the inability of human beings to know much of anything that has enduring significance by their own wisdom.

“I have tested” (7:23) recalls Qoheleth’s quest that begun earlier in the book (2:1). That testing followed folly, not wisdom. The conclusion is that wisdom [she] is inaccessible (“far off”) and unfathomable (“deep, very deep”). No human being can discover it.

The search (“turning my heart toward”) itself is traumatic and fraught with dangers. The search seems like a good idea, that is, to “know, search out and seek wisdom and significance” (7:25).  The Hebrew term behind “scheme” or device is attested only in 7:25, 7:27, and 9:10. A cognate appears in 7:29 often translated “plans, schemes, or inventions” (only elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible at 2 Chronicles 26:15). The point seems to be something like generating meaning or significance with the embedded idea of self-creation perhaps.  Perhaps the point is something like this: when we cannot discover authentic meaning, we create our own (or, as the existentialist Sartre said, we create essence out of our existence).

What does one find out (or discover)? The Hebrew term translated “find” is used eight times. The movement of the text is something like this:  I wanted to find X, but instead I found Y; finding X is harder than finding one human being in a 1000 (or, “finding a needle in a haystack”) since I was unable to find X (wisdom personified as a woman). What I did find is Y, which is folly (personified as a woman).

“Dame Folly” and “Lady Wisdom,” prominent in Proverbs 1-9 (especially 9), form a wisdom backdrop for this section.  “Dame Folly” is a snare, a trap, much like an adulterous seductress (Proverbs 5-6). “Lady Wisdom” (Proverbs 8) is the embodiment of the wisdom that arises out of the fear of the Lord. Qoheleth did not find “Lady Wisdom” but discovered “Dame Folly.” Bartholomew’s commentary on Ecclesiastes puts it this way (p. 275): “Human autonomy is so ingrained in modern culture, even though it has been challenged but not abandoned under the guise of postmodernism, that it is difficult for us to see the radicality of the ironization of an autonomous epistemology here in 7:23-29…[it] demonstrates that starting with an autonomous epistemology is not wisdom but folly and will lead one not to truth but right into the arms of Dame Folly.”

While 7:28 is sometimes read as misogynous (women are less virtuous, or they are inferior intellectually, etc.), it is probably better to see it as either hyperbole as in there is no one who is upright, male or female (taking the cue from 7:29, and consistent with 7:20), or proverbial as in it is easier to find a needle in a haystack than it is to find “Lady Wisdom” (taking the cue from 7:25-26). In other words, finding Lady Wisdom is more difficult than finding one man in a thousand. He did not find wisdom; rather, he discovered folly. And this is consistent with humanity in general: though they were made upright, human beings devise many foolish schemes.

Qoheleth has a moral compass—the one who pleases God (e.g., “good before the face of God”) and the sinner (cf. Ecc. 2:26; 5:5; 8:12). Though Qoheleth did not find “Lady Wisdom” but did find something—“this alone I found”—“that God made ‘adam upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” God created humanity with dignity, identity, and vocation, but humanity created their own paths (folly).

Theologically, the creation narrative lies behind this reflection in Qoheleth. God made ‘adam (human being; cf. 3:11, 14; 7:14; 11:5; 12:1). The Solomon persona in 2:5-6, 11 contrasts with God’s own creative work. While God created something good, Solomon seeks some that satisfies his own interests. The “Fall” narrative is part of this context as well: “they” (human beings) have created their own meaning and wisdom through their various schemes.

Qoheleth’s search, personified by Solomon, is rooted in the human ego or autonomy; it is the process of self-discovery. Qoheleth did not employ traditional wisdom (which begins with the fear of the Lord) but rather employed a version of Hellenistic wisdom where humanity is the measure of all things. Qoheleth adopts the dominant cultural worldview in order to examine “vanity” (hebel, used 37 times in Ecclesiastes) and discover “wisdom.” It did not work. He did not find authentic wisdom but only folly.

Traditional Hebrew wisdom actually lies in the backdrop of Qoheleth’s thinking. Qoheleth pursued an alternative but it was a dead-end and ultimately returns to what is “known” (what is confessed; cf. 3:12, 14; 8:12) and the fear of the Lord (5:7 is an imperative; cf. 3:14; 8:12-13). “Dame Folly” and “Lady Wisdom” form a backdrop throughout the book as well.

Theologically, Qoheleth’s search is about the nature of epistemology (autonomous?) and the fundamental resource of wisdom, which arises out of the fear of God. Postmodern readers resonate with the dead-end nature of autonomous human discovery, which attempts to discern a metanarrative to give meaning to human life.  Job 28 also shares this. The question is “who narrates the world?” Qoheleth probes the meaningfulness of Israel’s narrative for a Hellenistic setting and provides a theological resource for probing that narrative in the postmodern setting. This is part of its canonical function.

Theologically, Qoheleth lives with both the “vanity” (hebel) of life and the goodness of creation (“rejoice” of 11:9 and the imperatives of 9:7-9). The text ultimately orients us toward a humble, though frustrating, fear of God in the face of death.

Christologically, one may not only see the eschatological response to death but also the embodiment of the goodness of life in the midst of death in the ministry of Jesus. “Vanity” (hebel) is not denied; indeed, it is shared with humanity. At the same time, it is redeemed in the context of an “already, but not yet” eschatology.

Helpful resources:

Craig G. Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes (Baker Exegetical, 2014)

Choon-Leong Seow, Ecclesiastes (Anchor Bible, 1997)

Michael Fox, Qohelet and His Contradictions (Sheffield Academic Press, 1989).


Response to Renew’s Review (Part 5) of Women Serving God

September 12, 2020

Renew has recently published the fifth part of their series on the Bible, gender, and the church. This is my response.

Renew’s series, as a whole, responds to the publication of my book, Women Serving God. The following are links to the discussion between myself and Renew in the blogosphere.

  1. Renew’s Review (Part 1): Hermeneutics.
  2. My Response to Part 1.
  3. Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1. (I copied it into #4 below.)
  4. My Rejoinder to Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1.
  5. Renew’s Review (Part 2): 1 Corinthians 11.
  6. My Response to Part 2.
  7. Renew’s Review (Part 3): 1 Corinthians 14.
  8. My Response to Part 3.
  9. Renew’s Review (Part 4): 1 Timothy 2:8-15.
  10. My Response to Part 4.
  11. Renew’s Review (Part 5): Elders.

This present post is my response to Renew’s Part 5. Renew’s blog is over 7000 words. My response is brief–only 1500 words. Renew’s blog series (now in five parts) is now over 37,000 words and my responses are about 21,500.

As Renew turns its attention to the topic of church polity and the function of elders in the community of faith, it moves beyond the specific thesis and interest of my book, which Part 5 recognizes.

The purpose of my book is to explore the participation of women in the assembly. I make no sustained argument in the book that addresses the specific question of gender inclusion in the eldership. In fact, I explicitly defer that discussion to another book, which I hope to write.

Whether the eldership is gender inclusive or exclusive is materially irrelevant to the topic of whether women are invited to fully participate in the assemblies of the saints unless elders have some specific function or giftedness in the assembly that excludes all other believers. Among churches of Christ, other than a policy statement or something similar, there is no such function in our assemblies. In other words, whether it is leading worship, prayer, administration of the table, or preaching, none of these belong exclusively to elders—at least in the last one hundred years or so of the churches of Christ.

The topic of polity and gender exclusion/inclusion deserves careful attention and a close reading of Scripture as well as a coherent theological application of the story of God. I made the decision to defer that topic to another book rather than attempt to address it in this one.

Consequently, as Renew addresses the role of elders, it is no longer reviewing my book but offering a case for their own position, which has been their primary purpose (I surmise) from the beginning. Since their present blog offering (#5) moves beyond the purpose and arguments of my own book, I will defer any response to this specific topic until I have had opportunity to fully state what I think is the case and offer an extended rationale for my position (whatever my conclusion may be).

However, I will offer a few but brief observations on the points in the review that I think are relevant to the case I wanted to make in Women Serving God.

1. In part, the exclusion of women from serving as elders is grounded in material already covered earlier in the blogs or a future blog, according to Renew. I covered this material in my book or in earlier responses as well. This is the list Renew provides.

  • Adam’s primogeniture status and Eve’s role as a “strong helper.” Response: As I suggested in both my book and in my earlier response, this is a misreading of Paul’s point in 1 Timothy 2:13 as well as a failure to recognize “helper” (‘ezer) as a powerful ally (even rescuer) who shares the same nature, vocation, and identity as men (Genesis 1:26-28).
  • Priests were exclusively male and given a “special teaching role in Israel.”  Response: Teaching was not limited to priests; prophets taught as well, and women were prophets. Is the male Levitical priesthood of Israel a delimitation of female teaching under the priesthood of Jesus, who serves in a totally different order of priesthood (Melchizedek)?
  • “Jesus picked only men to be his 12 apostles.” Response: he picked only Jews as well to be his apostles. Does this exclude Gentiles from service as elders?
  • Husbands have a “Christ-like headship (authority) role as a servant leader,” which Renew will more fully articulate in a future Part 6. Response: this misunderstands the function of “head” in relation to Christ and the church as well as husbands and wife.
  • “In Christian gatherings, boundaries are established to uphold male headship in the church when women pray and prophesy (1 Corinthians 11) and during disruptions (1  Corinthians 14).” Response: male headship in 1 Corinthians 11 is not about male authority (as Renew understands headship) and the silencing of women in 1 Corinthians 14 is about communal disorder rather than male headship (see my responses to Parts 2 and 3).
  • “1 Timothy 2:11-15 teaches that in the gathered church, women are not to teach or exercise authority over men.” Response: each phrase in that statement is quite disputed and uncertain—it is not only about the “gathered church,” “teach” needs a narrow definition in order to make the point about elders, and “exercise authority” is about abusive and controlling activity rather than the authority of elders. The text more likely teaches that deceived women should not teach in such a way that they persuade men to follow their pathway into the hands of Satan (see my response to Part 4). By the way, it is important to note that nowhere in my chapter on 1 Timothy 2 nor in my response to Part 4 did I ever appeal to Galatians 3:28. My journey was an exegetical one with regard to 1 Timothy 2.

2. Hermeneutics is an important dimension of this discussion. At the same time, I see no evidence in our series of blogs that Renew and myself disagree, in principle, about the hermeneutical task (see my response to Part 1). We do disagree about the meaning and application of some (a few, actually) texts. But we both agree, at least, on these principles of “good hermeneutics”:

  • Scripture must have first place in our decision-making process and its norms guide us.
  • Our goal is to understand the teaching of Scripture so we might obey God.
  • We must discern where practices taught by Scripture function as applied theological principles in specific cultures and situations that no longer bind us (e.g., we no longer require head-covering, or forbid the wearing of gold and pearls, or require widows to be sixty before they are enrolled by the church, or follow Christ’s example of foot washing, etc.) and where practices are themselves part of the gospel norms (e.g., baptism, the Lord’s supper, etc.).
  • We seek a coherent theology of gender through a close reading of Scripture.

3. Concerning Galatians 3:28, I think the blog is too dismissive of the significance of this text. I offer my own perspective in Women Serving God, but it has not appeared materially in the blog series except for a brief mention in Part 1 in relation to hermeneutics.

  • The general context of Galatians 3:28 is “new creation” (deliverance from the present evil age in 1:4 to “new creation is everything” in 6:15–from beginning to the end of the letter), and the specific context of Galatians 3:28 is the inheritance (3:18, 29; 4:1, 7, 30; 5:21; the focused topic of this section of Galatians) believers have in Christ. This encompasses not only an initial inclusion in Christ (e.g., “who can be saved”) but also the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. That is a comprehensive context rather than a narrow one.
  • If the text says “there are no ethnic, social, economic, or gender hurdles” for “who can be saved” and salvation is much more than simply justification by faith or our entrance into the church, then it also entails “there are no ethnic, social, economic, or gender hurdles” for who can serve (gifts) in the church.
  • Would it be responsible to claim that Galatians 3:28 affirms Gentile elders and preachers or slave elders or preachers? What text authorizes slaves to become elders in the New Testament? Are they not under the authority of the household in which they live? Could a Christian slave be an elder in a congregation even while his Christian master is not an elder? Does Galatians 3:28 have implications for whether a Christian master should even own a Christian slave? The significance of Galatians 3:28 applies to ethnicity, economics, and gender as the story of new creation is lived out in the kingdom of God among communities upon whom God has poured the Spirit unless there is some explicit text that excludes Gentiles, slaves, or women.
  • This reading of Galatians 3:28 is not contrary to 1 Timothy 2 or 1 Corinthians 11 when those texts are read in the ways I have suggested, and those ways are credible approaches to the texts that respect their context and meaning. There is, then, no contradiction, which is assumed in the blog because of the way Renew reads 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11.

There is much more to say, of course—especially about 1 Timothy 3, which is the main ground in the light of how 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is read. That is understandable, and it deserves focused attention as we seek to live out gospel norms and principles in contemporary communities of faith. In my third book in this series, I will take up the discussion of elders, gender, and 1 Timothy 3 as well as other texts. I hope that will be in the near future.

Peace to my friends at Renew.


Response to Renew’s Review (Part 3) of Women Serving God

August 27, 2020

This is getting a bit confusing. Responses to Reviews by Renew with further Rejoinders. Way too many “Rs”. So, I’ll identify the contributions to this series at the beginning of each of my responses.

Renew, unfortunately, does not link my responses to their reviews on their blog. This is particularly unfair given that the most recent Renew review (number 7 below) responds to my #6 in addition to my book, Women Serving God. Their readers are not necessarily aware of my responses even though Renew is responding to them. Renew readers have no way of knowing or checking whether they are representing me accurately or the potential to read my supporting points.

Here are the links to the exchanges in one place. I respectfully ask Renew to provide the full links as well in their future responses and add links to past responses. I would be grateful for the courtesy.

Of course, Renew’s series started as a response to the publication of my book, Women Serving God. From there, we have the following in the blogosphere.

  1. Renew’s Review (Part 1): Hermeneutics.
  2. My Response to Part 1.
  3. Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1. (I copied it into #4 below.)
  4. My Rejoinder to Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1.
  5. Renew’s Review (Part 2): 1 Corinthians 11.
  6. My Response to Part 2.
  7. Renew’s Review (Part 3): 1 Corinthians 14.

This present post is my response to Renew’s Part 3. Renew’s blog is almost 7,000 words. My response is about 3,500 words.

Some Brief Notes

1. A Plain Hermeneutic. I affirm a “plain reading hermeneutic,” as Bobby describes it. In fact, my book (pp. 165-166) explicitly says that the grand story of God is readily available in sermons, songs, wisdom, narrative, and letters as one reads the Bible. It is available to all readers. Everyone, no matter what their educational or social backgrounds, may respond to the gospel through reading or hearing Scripture read. I believe the Spirit works powerfully to transform people and conform them to the image of Christ through the hearing and/or reading of Scripture.

At the same time, not everything is equally available or readable. As Peter said, and Bobby acknowledges, Paul wrote some things that are difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16). Might 1 Corinthians 11, 14, and 1 Timothy 2 be examples of such difficult texts? Given the diversity of their interpretation in the history of the church, I think so. But this does not undermine the clarity of the gospel message about which Paul is so adamant throughout all his letters.

One example of this difficulty, and why the plain reading is not always the best reading, is the word head. When we read “head” in English, a dominant denotation is ruler, rank, boss, etc. However, this is not true in Greek. The semantic range is much broader, and the meaning of “ruler or rank” is not a dominant meaning or even part of the classical meaning of the term.  Consequently, an English reader may read “head” and take its meaning as plain, but while its English meaning is plain, the Greek range of meaning is obscured. Consequently, plain does not always work well in translation, particularly when the English does not maintain the ambiguity or the primary sense of the Greek.

2.  On Veils. To be clear, I did not say or imply Rick’s understanding of Roman head-coverings in Corinth was “some gloss or a fringe interpretation.” In fact, I acknowledged it had “merit” and noted Rick had “demonstrated” the significance of Roman head covering practices. In fact, I provided a link to Massey’s article in my own review (which Bobby quoted in Renew review #3). Rick has made a tremendous contribution to scholarship by noting the Roman practice. Both men and women covered their heads when they led worship practices in Roman religion. That is widely acknowledged.

At the same time, according to Rick, Paul differentiates between men and women in terms of authority and that the head-covering now represents male authority over the woman rather than the meaning of piety in Roman practices. In other words, Rick believes Paul changed both the meaning and practice of the Roman custom to conform to the “biblical idea of headship.” That is where the dispute lies. The Roman practice is not in question. Rather, the question is, why did Paul change the Roman practice (men uncovered rather than covered), what other cultural factors are in play at Corinth (why are women still covered?), and what is the theological meaning of the head-covering for Paul (male authority, sexual propriety, or other possible reasons)? That is much more disputed than the Roman practice itself.

3.  On Photius. My point, of course, in quoting Photius and other Nicene theologians in history is not to say this is an argument for understanding Paul’s meaning as a principle of exegesis. Rather, it was to illustrate that many theologians don’t see a problem with understanding God as the “source” of Christ, which Rick had dismissed in the earlier review. According to Nicene theology, the Father is the source of the Son, whether in terms of the immanent Trinity (through eternal generation of the Son) or in terms of the incarnation (the Father sends the Son and the Son comes from the Father). The idea that God is the “source” of Christ does not create Christological problems, whether in the biblical text or Nicene theology.

4.  The Submission of the Messiah (Christ) to the Father for Eternity. I understand Rick to describe the relationship between the human Messiah, the incarnate Logos (to use John’s language, John 1:1, 14) and the Creator God the Father. The language of “son” in this context, as Rick describes it, is Davidic royalty; it is Messianic language. In terms of the incarnation, we are agreed. This is the case for Psalm 110 and Psalm 2, to be sure, as it is applied in 1 Corinthians 15. I have no qualms with that point. Jesus is resurrected as the new human of new creation and exalted to the throne of David. At the end, the Messiah will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. The Davidic king—the incarnate Messiah who is descended from David as a human being and now reigns in resurrected human form—will turn the kingdom over to the Father. The Davidic king, as the human representative of all humanity, will turn the kingdom over to the Father. There is no disagreement that the incarnate Messiah was submissive to the Father and, as human, will reign in the kingdom of God in a subordinate position to God.

If 1 Corinthians 11:3 means that God is the head of the Messiah (Christ) in the sense that the Messiah is submissive to God and God has authority (rank, power, rule) over the Messiah, then we are talking about the incarnate Christ rather than the eternal Logos. But note this “headship” (and its attendant submission) entails an ontological difference. God has authority over the incarnate Messiah. That authority, then, is ontological in character because God has authority over the human Davidic king. I don’t think we want to say that male headship over women is analogous to that kind of authority, or is that what complementarianism entails?

The idea that Christ submits to the Father as the incarnate Messiah is true, and this assumes an ontological inequality because the incarnate, human Messiah submits to the divine Father.  If we proceed on that basis, then a strict analogy with men and women (“man is the head of woman”) entails that there is an ontological difference between men and women and that women must show the same kind of submission to men that the incarnate Jesus shows to God the Creator. But Paul says men and women have mutual authority (1 Corinthians 7:4). The analogy of authority does not hold.

If, however, one believes 1 Corinthians 11:3 is about the immanent Trinity, then it describes the relationship between God and Christ (Logos, the divine one through whom the world was created) before the creation. To say that the Creator has an eternal authority (power, rank) over the divine Logos within the one being of God is to introduce an ontological inequality into the being of the one God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. Reading kephalē as “authority/rank/power” creates a problem for understanding the ontological equality of the immanent Trinity.

These difficulties are one of the reasons—and I gave other reasons in my previous response—that I prefer “source/origin of life, kinship, head-body oneness” for the meaning of kephalē. It seems to me, this is the analogy Paul is drawing in 1 Corinthians 11:3, and Paul is quite explicit about the idea of source in 1 Corinthians 11:8-12 (woman from man and men now come through women).

At bottom, Nicene theology has affirmed taxis (order) within the immanent Trinity, and this order is one of relation for the sake of differentiation within the one being of God. That eternal differentiation is not about authority because they are equal in power (authority), glory, and honor because there is only one God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. The differentiation between Father, Son, and Spirit is about relation, origin, or source (eternal generation and eternal procession) rather than authority, glory, and honor.

5. On Torah. Rick rightly points out that the Greek word nomos (law) may refer to any part of the Hebrew Bible. I had no intention of saying otherwise. In fact, in the same chapter, Paul described his quotation from Isaiah as something written in the law (nomos; 1 Corinthians 14:21). I agree with Rick that Paul’s use of “law”may refer to Genesis 1-2.

Common Ground on 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

1. We agree that 1 Corinthians 11-14 is describing activities in the regular assemblies of the Corinthian church. Therefore, we must account for the fact that women prayed and prophesied in the assembly in 1 Corinthians 11:5 when we seek to understand what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

2. We agree that 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 is about the orderly exercise of gifts in the assembly. Paul silences three disorderly groups: tongue-speakers, prophets, and women. None of the groups are totally silenced, but each are silenced with regard to their specific disorderliness, or, as Rick put it in the case of the women (wives), “vocal disruptions.” Renew, quoting the White Station document, identifies these as women who are “asking interrupting questions.” That is the interpretation I offered in my book.

3.  Whatever male headship means, there is no indication in 1 Corinthians that the exercise of any gifts were limited to men alone. In fact, “all” are invited to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:31), and “each one” brings their gift to the assembly, including hymns, revelations, and teachings (1 Corinthians 14:26). Even if wives submit to their husbands by abstaining from disorderly conduct, the silence is relative to disorderliness and not because the headship principle itself demands silence. As I have heard Rick note on several occasions (including his commentary on 1 Corinthians), the law asks for submission, not silence.

These are significant and important agreements. It is the common ground of “limited” and “full” participation perspectives. In 1 Corinthians, only disorderly women are silenced, but they are not silenced from praying and prophesying in the assemblies of God.

The Disagreement

Rick says, “Paul is saying that male headship is being dishonored by the way some of the women are interacting with some of the men.” If Rick means that woman ought to honor their heads in the sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, I can see that. However, Rick understands “head” to include a notion of male authority over women and concomitant submission. I don’t think male headship entails such, as I suggested in my response to Review #2. Paul does not actually use the language of headship in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and he does not use the word submission in 1 Corinthians 11.

In essence, we disagree about the meaning of submission in 1 Corinthians 14. In essence, this is the only disagreement Rick and I have about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

Renew suggests submission evokes “the biblical doctrine of headship,” even though “submission” is not used in 1 Corinthians 11 and principle of headship is not explicit in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul’s reference to the law in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is understood as a reference to the creation story in Genesis 2, which coheres with Paul’s use of the creation story in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 (if Paul means for the creation story to teach female submission to males).

This is the heart of our disagreement regarding 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I don’t think Renew’s understanding is as clear, plain, or certain as Renew seems to think it is.

1. A Reinterpretation. (Remember in the first Renew review, I was charged with reinterpreting texts to fit my agenda.) The historic understanding of the church from the 2nd century into the 20th century was that the “law” to which Paul referred was Genesis 3:16, which is the only Hebrew text that explicitly describes how men “rule” over women. Consequently, Renew and Rick reinterpret the meaning of “law” as a reference to Genesis 2 rather than 3:16.

Further, they also reinterpret the meaning of silence since the historic position of the church required absolute, total silence in the assembly. In other words, if Rick and Renew are correct, this text has never been clear or plain to the church throughout its history. This is even more the case if one thinks the prohibition only refers to the evaluation the prophetic message. That reinterpretation is of quite recent origin.

Bobby recognizes some complementarians argue 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 only forbids the participation of women in the judging (evaluation) of prophetic revelation, which—it is suggested–is the function of an authority figure in the congregation. [This is the position Reneé takes in her book, On Gender.] But why did not Paul use the specific word (judge) for the prohibition if he had that specific action in mind? Paul’s language is more general (speak). Moreover, Paul says, “let the others weigh what is said.” Who are the “others”? Most likely, it is other prophets, including female prophets. The others includes “all” who might prophesy and not a particular class of people who have special authority. In other words, the prophets (or perhaps even the whole congregation) evaluate the prophecy. Nothing suggests an authority figure evaluates the prophecy distinct from the prophets themselves.

These reinterpretations suggest that the historic, even plain, reading of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is inadequate and misunderstands Paul’s point. A plain reading, as Bobby recognizes, must pay attention to context, language, and canonical theology. On this, we agree.

2.  Since the activities of the women are disruptive and shameful, they need to stop, at the very least, out of a sense of respect or deference (appropriate meanings of the term “submit” [hupotassō]). If this means wives (women) must submit to husbands or men in the church (which Paul does not explicitly say which or either), it does not necessarily imply any male authority over wives (women). Since husbands and wives share mutual authority over each other’s lives (1 Corinthians 7:4), this mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21) entails mutual respect and deference. As a result, if submission to husbands or men is the correct way to read this text (which is not certain), women should respect their husbands/men by not creating a disorderly disturbance within the assembly. Authority is not necessarily involved. It would also be shameful and disorderly if men interrupted and talked over others, including female prophets. They, too, would need to submit out of respect as well.

3.  One might respond that since “authority” has already been introduced in 1 Corinthians 11 through the idea of “head,” then submission in 1 Corinthians 14:34 must refer to a woman’s submission to her head (husband or males in the assembly).  As I noted in a previous blog, (1) the word head does not necessarily entail authority, (2) the only authority mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11 is the authority a woman possesses in her own person before God—she has authority over her own head (11:10), and (3) authority between men and women is mutual rather than hierarchical, according to 1 Corinthians 7:4. Further, Paul never uses the word “submit” or “submission” in 1 Corinthians 11. He does refer to “honor,” but honor does not necessarily entail authority.  In fact, according to 1 Corinthians 12:23-24, every part of the body is to honor every other part of the body. Honor is mutual. “Honor” in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 refers to acknowledging the source of one’s life, just as each member of the body is to show honor to every other member of the body. Honor belongs to the whole body and is mutual.

4. We do have another place in 1 Corinthians that refers to submission. It is not chapter 11, but chapter 14. I think that is quite significant. The only places where Paul uses the verb “submit” in the context of the Corinthian assemblies (1 Corinthians 11-14) are within two verses of each other (verses 32 and 34). They occur in the same immediate context of disorder (14:26-40).

Just as the prophets should submit themselves to order within the assembly, so disorderly women should submit themselves to order within the assembly. The disruption is disorder, and the submission is to order. The facts are that Paul does not say (1) to whom the women are to submit and (2) where the law says women should submit. These two points are ambiguous and unstated.

There are clues in the immediate context, however.  First, Paul uses a middle/passive form of hupotassō (submit) in 14:32. The prophets must control themselves, that is, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” Second, Paul grounds this call to submission in God’s own identity. “Because” (gar), Paul writes, “God is a God not of disorder but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints.”

This parallels Paul’s language in 14:34.  First, Paul uses a middle/passive form of hupotassō (submit). The women are to control themselves; they submit themselves. Second, Paul grounds this call to submission in the law. “Because” (gar), Paul writes, “the law also says.”

  • The prophets must submit themselves because God is the God of peace rather than disorder or confusion.
  • The women must submit themselves because of what the law says.

The parallelism suggests Paul is probably referring to something general in the law parallel to the principle that “God is not the God of disorder but peace” rather than a specific text. The Hebrew Bible is replete with the theological idea that God brings order and battles chaos, which is the point of Genesis 1 itself. That God is the God of peace rather than confusion is something the law teaches. Everywhere else in 1 Corinthians when Paul refers to what is said or written in the law (1 Corinthians 9:8-9; 14:21), he explicitly quotes the text except here. He expects everyone who is disruptive to submit to order in the assembly and practice self-giving and humility rather than boisterous, talkative, or disruptive speech.

Consequently, I believe Paul is silencing the women on the same basis as he silences the prophets: the law teaches that God is the God of order and peace rather than confusion. The law teaches submission to that principle.

It seems to me, at the very least, it is good to acknowledge that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a difficult and unclear text in many respects. It does not have a plain meaning unless one simply absolutizes the language and demands total silence on the part of women in the assembly. Consequently, the text has significant ambiguities and thus is a precarious basis upon which to build a theology of gender in relation to the assembly.

Leadership and Headship

This brings us to the bottom line of our disagreement, which I suspect will emerge even more clearly in the next posting by Renew.

  • We both agree women are gifted to actually lead (including speaking—such as prayer and prophecy) in the assembly in many diverse ways with diverse gifts.

Renew, however, believes there are functions, roles, or gifts pertaining to the assembly that belong only to men. These functions are, in Renew’s language, expressions of “the biblical idea of headship.” If a function, role, or gift in the assembly of God embodies the principle of headship, then it is reserved only for men.

  • The critical questions, then, are (1) what roles, gifts, or functions belong to headship in the assembly, and (2) how do we discern which roles, gifts or functions belong to headship in the assembly?

Or, to put it another way: what precisely is the difference between a leadership function and a headship function? What plain reading of what text identifies that distinction? This is the crux, it seems to me.

Renew believes women may not “serve in the role of the lead teacher/preacher” in the assembly. That language, however, is not found in the New Testament. But there is only one text in the New Testament that might even approximate that answer to the question. It is the one to which Rick and Renew point us. It is 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

In other words, the whole case for soft complementarianism—in terms of identifying what specific roles, gifts, or functions belong only to males in the assembly (which is the burden of my book)—boils down to a particular understanding of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, which is–in fact–their own reinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2. The historic interpretation of this text excludes women from much more than the “lead teacher/preacher” role in the assembly.

I welcome the discussion of 1 Timothy 2 that is coming in the next Renew review.

Peace upon my friends at Renew!


Women Serving God: A Study Guide

July 10, 2020

Does God invite women to fully participate in the assemblies of God?

My new book, Women Serving God, addresses this question. It is now available on Amazon in both Kindle ebook ($9.99) and print ($14.95).

In addition, I have produced a teaching/discussion study guide for the book designed for small groups or Bible classes.

Among churches of Christ, the voices of women are typically silent and excluded from visible leadership in assemblies gathered for prayer and praise. In this book, I tell the story of my own journey to understand how women have served God throughout the unfolding drama of Scripture. I describe my movement from the exclusion of the voices of women and their leadership in the assembly to a limited inclusion, and finally to the full inclusion of those voices and their leadership. Along the way, I describe some of the history of churches of Christ as well as my own history but ultimately focus on the meaning of biblical texts and how they support the full participation of women in the assemblies of God.

Three women, Claire Davidson Frederick, Jantrice Johnson, and Lauren Smelser White, respond to and extend John Mark’s thoughts.

John Mark is detailed, fair, and vulnerable about his own journey and our collective journey in Churches of Christ. I recommend John Mark as a trustworthy guide. Dr. Sara G. Barton, University Chaplain, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA

Do we believe that the Holy Spirit equally equips both women and men to carry out Jesus’s message of reconciliation? Dr. Hicks is a trusted guide in navigating the depth of scripture and the complexity of our cultural moment. Drink deeply from this well! Dr. Joshua Graves, Otter Creek Church, Brentwood, Tennessee.

With characteristic depth, rigor, and generosity, Hicks offers his own journey toward embracing the inclusion of women’s voices in the assembly. Hicks writes with a familiarity of Restoration Movement history that few can boast, with an accompanying dedication to searching the scriptures. Amy McLaughlin-Sheasby, Instructor in the Department of Bible, Missions, and Ministry, Abilene Christian University.

This book is a gift to twenty-first century Churches of Christ. Part autobiography, part history, part exegesis, and part biblical theology, Hicks’s exploration of the Bible’s teachings on the role of women in congregational gatherings offers several invaluable components. Dr. James L. Gorman, Associate Professor of History, Johnson University

JOHN MARK HICKS is Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. He has taught for thirty-nine years in schools associated with the churches of Christ. He has authored or co-authored eighteen books, lectured in twenty-two countries and forty states, and is married to Jennifer. They share five living children and six grandchildren.


A New Garden in a New City on a New Earth

January 23, 2020

The new earth has a new garden in a new city.

In the next to last chapter of the Bible, John sees a “new heaven and new earth” where God’s new Jerusalem descends from heaven to earth. In other words, heaven comes down to earth. At that moment, the whole earth is filled with the glory of God.

There is no more chaos, which is represented by the absence of a sea. There is no more death, pain, or mourning because all of that has passed away and everything has become new. As God says, “I am making all things new.” God does not make new things, but God makes all things new. God renews what God made in the beginning. And this fulfills God’s promise to Abraham, and God invites the children of Abraham to “inherit these things.”

When heaven comes to earth, heaven and earth become one. That union of heaven and earth—the union of the dwelling of God with the dwelling of humanity within the creation—is the moment when the glory of God will fill the earth. Everything within it will be called holy and the earth will know the righteousness, justice, and peace of the fullness of the kingdom of God.

This was the hope of Israel. They yearned for a time of peace and justice, of righteousness and love. They hoped for a time when the wolf and the lamb would lie down together. They expected a time when all the nations would bow before their God and learn war no more. They trusted that God would reign fully in the earth. These are the promises and prophecies that will be fulfilled when God renews the heavens and the earth and comes to dwell with the heirs of the promise on the new earth.

The new earth has a new city, the new Jerusalem. This is the city where God dwells. There is no temple in this city because God dwells there. There is no night there because God is the light of the city. The whole earth has become the temple of God as the new Jerusalem fills the earth.

This new city also has a new garden which gives life to God’s people. The tree of life is there, and there is abundant provision for all peoples.

In this new city, with its new garden on a new earth, the people of God serve God day and night. I don’t know exactly what that means. In what ways will we serve God? Perhaps we will take up our original commission to reign with God over the creation, and this means we will continue to develop it and care for it.

Perhaps we might imagine that we continue to write new songs, create new art, make new history, build new buildings, and develop new relationships with people and diverse nations. Perhaps we will finally learn to enjoy the diversity of different cultures and peoples. To serve God is to continue in the ministry God gave humanity, to function as royal priests within the creation. We will lead the creation in the praise of God, and we will care for the creation and develop its potential even further.

Exactly what will that look like? I don’t know, and I hesitate to speculate. But I am confident of this: it will be a grand adventure that exceeds all that we might imagine and more than anything for which we might ask. It will be a great adventure, and the story of God will continue and blossom into eternity.


Hermeneutics is Always Inferential

January 21, 2020

Below I summarize the point of Searching for the Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Bible.h

Growing up in Churches of Christ, I embraced and practiced a hermeneutic that sought an implicit blueprint for the work and worship of the church in Acts and the Epistles. Through a filter of generic/specific distinctions, coordinate associations, the law of silence, and expediency (among other rules for authorization), I shifted through the commands, examples, and inferences within the New Testament to deduce a blueprint, which then became the standard of faithfulness and a mark of the true church.  And if everyone agreed upon and practiced the blueprint, we would be united! Part I of my book tells this story.

The inadequacies of this approach as well as its subjectivity (every conclusion and most steps along the way were inferences) created doubts. This is not how the apostolic witness called people to gospel obedience. They did not read Scripture or write Scripture with a blueprint lens. Something different was going on. This is described in Part II of my book.

The problem is the location of the pattern. The pattern is not found in an implied blueprint in Acts and the Epistles. Paul does not call people to obedience based on a blueprint located in the practices of the church. Instead, he calls them to obedience based on the pattern manifested in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. This is the gospel we obey—the story of Jesus—rather than a blueprint we have inferred from the text but is not explicitly there. This is my point in Part III of my book.

Hermeneutics, even a theological hermeneutic which I promote in the book, always involves inferences. We cannot escape them; every application is an inference. But here is the significant point: the pattern is not an inference. On the contrary, it is the story in which we live. It is the narrative air we breathe. The pattern of God’s work through Christ in the power of the Spirit is clear, objective, and formative. It is the story told in Scripture; it is an explicit pattern.

We will find unity when we confess the same pattern, and the shame of our division is that we already confess the same pattern.  Our pattern is God in Jesus through the Spirit, or our pattern is Jesus. Here we are united, and our hermeneutics (whether blueprint or theological) must not undermine that unity but provide ways to embody it.  That is the point of Part IV of my book.


Communal Life

January 20, 2020

The goal of God for human life is transformation into the likeness of God and participation in the communal fellowship of the Triune God. When humanity fully participates in the circle of God’s loving fellowship, then the reign of God has fully arrived.

This does not entail a loss of finitude or creatureliness. When glorified in the new heaven and new earth with glorified bodies that conform to the glorious body of the resurrected Lord, we will not be saved from finitude but invited, as finite creatures, to share in the divine fellowship of the Triune God. We will not become omniscient or omnipotent because we will not participate in the divine essence; we will not become little gods. But we will become Godlike, that is, full participants in the divine love.

At the same time, our participation in the divine love—because it is experienced as finite creatures—is a journey into the heart of God, deeper into the fellowship of the divine persons. Every morning God will be new to us because as finite creatures the infinite God will always have more to share with us and we will experience that love more deeply. God is like a bottomless well from which we will drink—we will experience daily filling of joy and satisfaction, but there is always more to drink. God will give us more moment by moment throughout eternity.

As community, we will grow more intimate with each other. The relationships we begin now will continue into glory. More than that, they will grow deeper, wider, and more inclusive. Our relationships will not remain static but deepen and expand. We will know not only those with whom we have relationships now, but we will also initiate new relationships with people we have never known. The fullness of the kingdom of God as a community is an interactive web of relationships which will provide opportunity for growth in the new heaven and new earth.

Moreover, the glorified community is not a static accomplishment as if we attain “perfection” and thus there is no more work, no more loving, no more growing, no more knowing, or no more connecting to be done. Rather, the fullness of the kingdom of God involves a dynamic growth into the heart of God as well as a dynamic growth among the people of God. When God recreates, just as God created in the beginning, the Triune God will create a dynamic reality that invites the redeemed community to pursue growth, intimacy, fellowship, and relationship within the new creation.

The oneness of the people of God will emerge brightly upon the new earth, and the unity of the body of Christ will be recognized as a gift of God’s gracious work. But the oneness does not entail some kind of Stepford human beings who are all identical. Rather, the oneness, like the oneness of the original creation, includes a diversity and a dynamism that reflects the reality of God who is both three and loving while at the same time remaining one.

The fullness of the kingdom, then, is a communal reality created in the image of God’s Triune fellowship. It is the experience of intimacy without fear, love without suspicion, and trust without doubt. It is love because God is love. There are no more barriers, no more ethnic bigotry, no more snobbish class wars, and no more alienation or marginalization. The kingdom of God will experience community in a way that images the community of God’s own life and participate in the community of God’s life.



Divine Judgment

January 16, 2020

As we read the story of God in the Bible, we see over and over again where God purposes to set things right, does—in fact—set things right, and promises to ultimately set everything right. God will not let evil stand; God will not let evil go unchecked; and God will not let evil win.

When people filled the earth with violence, God renewed the earth with a flood. When Egypt would not let God’s people go, it suffered divine judgment. When Israel did not care for its poor and shed innocent blood, God sent them into exile. When the Messiah came to the temple, he turned over its tables of injustice and exploitation. When the powers killed the Messiah, God judged the powers through the resurrection of the Messiah and set the world right through the exaltation of the Messiah to God’s right hand.

God’s vindication of the Messiah, and its corresponding subversion of the powers, is the revelation of God’s final goal, which is: God will set things right.

This is the essence of divine judgment. God discerns between good and evil; God destroys evil; and God ensures the triumph of good. And this is how the story of God has played out throughout the theodrama, throughout Scripture.

At the same time, God does not act as quickly or as thoroughly as we like. We want it over now, and we pray for the full reign of God in the world now. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for God’s final discernment between good and evil, God’s final destruction of evil, and God’s final triumph over evil. We are praying that God will set things right. We are praying, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

There will come a day, a judgment day, when the distinction between good and evil will become clear. We will see evil in all its stark reality, and we will reject it and acknowledge its opposition to the life of God. God will purge all evil from the creation, and evil will be destroyed and eliminated from God’s creation so that there is no more curse, no more sea, and no more evil in God’s new creation (Revelation 21:1-6; 22:3).

Judgment is that process by which God separates evil from good and separates the sheep from the goats. This separation not only identifies and clarifies the reality of evil, but it also refines and purges people so that the people of God are perfected in the love of God. Judgment, then, is the moment where evil is identified, humanity is examined, the earth is purged of its evil, the people of God are fully sanctified, and the people of God are invited into the new creation to live upon a new earth where righteousness dwells.

It often seems like God does not care about evil because God permits it to exist in such quantity with such intensity. We sometimes doubt whether God is all that concerned about evil and the trauma it creates.

The story of God, however, assures us that God does care. God examines humanity, and God discerns the difference between good and evil. God will destroy evil, and good will triumph. We see this in the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. And that is our hope. God will judge evil and exalt the good. So, we continue to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


The Resurrection of Creation

January 13, 2020

Though often neglected, salvation also includes the liberation of the cosmos from its bondage to decay and destruction. The whole cosmos groans, along with humanity, for relief from the frustration to which the world has been subjected. God saves the cosmos by renewing it, by ushering in a new or renewed heaven and earth.

This hope is rooted in God’s promise to Abraham. The land, which includes the whole cosmos, according to Romans 4:13, is the inheritance of Israel. Abraham is the heir of the cosmos. The creation now belongs to a descendant of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of God. As co-heirs with Jesus, we, too, are heirs of the cosmos.

Based on this promise to Abraham, according to Peter, “we wait for the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:13). God promised Abraham an inheritance, and that inheritance is a new heaven and a new earth. The Christian hope includes a new earth.

Too often Christians have thought they must escape the creation and fly away in glory to some eternal celestial heaven. If we mean that we want to escape the “present evil age” or escape the decaying, destructive powers of death, then I understand that point. I, too, want to escape that. God will dissolve all the evil and destroy the powers that enslaved the creation. But the biblical story is not ultimately about escape but redemption. 

God redeemed the body of Jesus through raising him from the dead and transforming his death-bound body into an immortal body. This is our hope as well. One day God will redeem our bodies through raising us from the dead and transforming our death-bound bodies into immortal bodies. This is also the hope of the creation itself.

The creation groans to be “set free” or liberated from “its bondage to decay,” and it hopes to share in the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The resurrection of the creation is rooted in the resurrection of God’s people just as the resurrection of God’s people is rooted in the resurrection of God’s Messiah. The resurrection of Jesus, our own resurrection, and the resurrection of the creation are inextricably tied together. The resurrection of Jesus is the inauguration of new creation, our resurrection is our participation in the new creation, and the creation itself becomes new because it is the dwelling place of the resurrected people of God with their resurrected Messiah.

In this way, the creation is like a mother about to give birth to something new (Romans 8:22). The creation presently experiences something akin to labor pains as it groans in eager expectation for its liberation and transformation. The present creation will give birth to a new creation just as our bodies will give birth to new bodies in the resurrection.

The Abrahamic promise was first given to ethnic Israel but, by faith and because of the Messiah, it includes the nations as well. Perhaps on the new heaven and new earth the redeemed of ethnic Israel will dwell in Palestine—in the land between the rivers of Egypt and Babylon—and the rest of the earth will belong to the people of God among the nations as they again reign on the earth with God. The kingdom of God will fill the earth.

The earth is the inheritance of God’s people as Jesus promised: “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). One day the reign of God will fill it from the east to the west, from the north to the south. The whole earth, unlike its present condition, will be “Holy to the Lord” (Zechariah 14:20).