Empowering Single Women as Leaders in the Home

My pet discussion topic this summer has been about women’s issues, and in June I enjoyed essentially a two-week conversation with my parents about how headship is or isn’t experienced by single women, if all women must submit to all men (or not) according to Scripture, the fact that Mary and Martha learned from Jesus himself (and not through their brother Lazarus) and what this means for women and their ability to understand and teach theology, whether men can learn from women or not, and the fact that *most men* aren’t called into the ministry either.

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Some of the driving factors of our discussion were this book and an excerpt from Tertullian (155-240 A.D.), an early church father, on the veiling of virgins.

My recent tour with Oasis Chorale also prompted several conversations about single living and the roles of single women in the church, and in one conversation, I mentioned how Tertullian himself recognizes the fact that some of the headship principles of I Corinthians 11 seem to be speaking to *married* women and men, and he admits that “covered” and “uncovered” virgins were regularly admitted to communion in second century churches. (Check your ESV Bibles; this is how it’s translated!) However, Tertullian indeed offers extensive logical arguments for the veiling of virgins, all of which can be read here. (Another note: Tertullian points out that the exception was Corinth, where virtually all virgins covered their heads.)

It is clear, however, that Tertullian imagines “covered” virgins in a temporary light, and that he expects that virgins eventually marry. He doesn’t really know what to do with, or what to call, a woman who does not foresee marriage, suggesting that a permanent unmarried virgin would have to be some strange third class, or “third generic class.” (It sure feels like that sometimes, buddy.) (Warning: reading Tertullian causes extreme dissociation because he cannot begin to comprehend the possibility of single living for females.)

Which brings me to my question: what is headship, exactly, and how does it apply to single women? (I’m really quite uninterested in reading your opinions; rather, I’m looking for academic, historical, and theological sources on the topic.)

In her book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, Byrd offers that headship is connected to household management and then poses this interesting question: “If headship is connected to household management, are all men to have authority over all women? And what are the responsibilities of heads of households?”

Perhaps you disagree that headship is related household management, yet I would like to offer this opinion: the modern “experience” and the “practice” of headship for single females is something quite very different from a stated belief in it, especially when it feels like our culture expects young women to soon get “married off” and then we don’t have to worry about it, do we? (A little sarcasm for your afternoon reading.)

All of THIS to say, currently, I am my own household manager as I am living by myself for the first time, and I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about how I want to build a Christian home as a single person. (In some ways, I feel like marriage is closely connected to identity and household management, where young people say, “This is who I am, this is who we are, and this is the kind of life we’ll build together.” When is the time for single people to make such assertions?)

Living by myself for the last year, I noticed that I’ve developed some bad habits. I haven’t been very intentional about what I’ve allowed into my home. How do I spend my time? What kind of person do I want to become, and how does the management of my home affect the future me?

As a single woman with no roommates, I am the leader of my home, yet since “leadership” in certain pockets of Christianity is a particularly male trait, I’m coming up short on resources for how to effectively build a Christian home, apart from a traditional family structure. (I may ask here, are we doing ourselves a disservice in positing men (or fathers) only as “leaders” for the home? Does this do a disservice for single women living on their own, single mothers, single men, people living with or without roommates? Aren’t we ALL called to be leaders in the home? What does this look like to manage a household well?)

I suggest that all household managers are leaders, whether they are male or female, and ought to follow their head which is Christ.

Since I haven’t found a lot of sources about how I as a single woman can be a leader in the home (as I don’t have children or a husband), I’m creating my own source here. Here are some practical things to think about if you are a single woman wanting to build a Christian home, following your head which, for lack of a husband, is Christ.

Building a Godly Home

1. Build a Godly home as a single by seeking emotional health.

Many of the sources that I’ve read on the topic of household management and male leadership relate to nurturing love and relationship inside the home. Obviously, this is where the household of a single, childless person diverges from the traditional family structure, creating its own set of emotional issues that merit discussion. Peter Scazzero, in his Christianity Today article “The Road to Emotional Health,” offers four characteristics of emotionally unhealthy leaders which I think are important points of consideration for those wanting to maintain Godly single households. He contends that a lack of emotional health is apparent in the following ways: (1) low self-awareness, (2) prioritizing ministry over marriage or singleness, (3) doing more activity for God than their relationship with God can sustain, (4) lacking a work/Sabbath rhythm.

Regarding low self-awareness, Scazzero says, “Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to be unaware of what is going on inside them. And even when they recognize a strong emotion such as anger, they fail to process or express it honestly and appropriately. They ignore emotion-related messages their body may send—fatigue, stress-induced illness, weight gain, ulcers, headaches, or depression. They avoid reflecting on their fears, sadness, or anger.” How singles may choose to process their emotions in healthy ways (both personally, and in the community of relationship) is a topic all its own, but I think a place to start is at least with self-inventory. I, for one, have been recognizing the negative pattern of bottling things up, choosing “not to go there,” quite simply because of the pain I would find there. However, I’m learning that I can’t be afraid of my emotions. My helplessness, at times, is the place where God meets me, and where He quietly asks for trust.

Regarding prioritizing ministry over singleness, Scazzero says, “Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to compartmentalize their married or single life, separating it from both their leadership and their relationship with Jesus. For example, they might make significant leadership decisions without thinking through the long-term impact those decisions could have on the quality and integrity of their single or married life. They dedicate their best energy, thought, and creative efforts to leading others, and they fail to invest in a rich and full married or single life.

I visibly started when I read this. A “rich and full” single life? This is not language we are used to! (For example, one article I found about cultivating a healthy single home was signed, “Single and Surviving.” I’m not sure that that is the same language as is used in articles about marriage. Don’t we have some work to do here? Why is the stereotype of singlehood so negative? We need to change the language.) And, just how one “invests” in a rich, full single life is a topic that is open for discussion, as always, on this blog.

To sum up, singles ought to press in to emotional health by sorting through their emotions and by creatively pursuing an understanding of what a rich and full single life looks like.

2. Build a Godly home by leading spiritually.

Set a sure foundation. A wise (wo)man builds her/his house upon a rock. What strides are you making to set a spiritual tone in your home? Are you reading the Word of God and praying on a daily basis? Jesus sets a standard for Godly homes in the Gospels by quoting from the Deuteronomy 6 passage: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” My next few points are borrowed from the article “How Does a Husband Lead His Family?” from covenantkeepers.org, in which we are reminded, “When you sit at the dinner table, or drive in your car, or at bed time, share what God has taught you from your devotional time in the Scriptures that day. If God has planted His Words in your heart, share them with your wife and children.” Granted, you may not have a spouse and children, but the question can be asked, what are you doing/reading/watching during dinner time? Who/what are you listening to in your car? What takes up your time right before bed? How does Scripture intersect with those you invite or host in your home? Be sure that the Word of God has a prominent place in your home.

3. Build a Godly home by leading morally.

Covenantkeepers.org asks, “Are your moral decisions based upon your own selfish desires or are they based upon God’s truth? Is your life an example of moral compromise or of the godly standards that you declare to your wife and children? Do you speak the truth in love or do you shade the truth when it suits you?” For single people, it is quite easy to live with a lack of accountability. This leads to moral compromise. I challenge single women: do you have a stated morality on the following issues: church attendance, service to the local church, sex (including masturbation and pornography), finances, food, alcohol, social media (what accounts you follow/don’t follow and why), TV and movies, reading material, pride and vanity in personal appearance (Tertullian would roll over in his grave at our modern society’s “see and be seen” social media culture), gossip, loyalty, the study of theology (so that one can make wise and discerning choices in the first place), etc. Be a female leader by taking a stand for moral decisions.

3. Lead by managing.

Be responsible for the details of your home management. Be a responsible renter, home-owner, housekeeper. (I’m sorry, Mr. Landlord, that I didn’t empty the dumpster, but there was a foot of snow and #winter.)

4. Build a Godly home by leading in decision-making.

For some reason, this is one that single women dread the most. However, wisdom is not a trait reserved only for males, and the Proverbs 12:15 offers us this key: “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (An important reminder for female AND male decision-makers!)

5. Build a Godly home by leading in reconciliation and conflict-resolving.

Chances are, you are connected to family life in some way. It is possible that you are living in a satellite home of sorts, still in some way connected to your first home. Make sure that the reception between your satellite home and your first home is clear and without the static of discord. As conflict naturally arises in relationship, be sure that you are following the Biblical command for all Christians, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Resist the urge to use manipulation, control, and emotional vomiting with your first family. As a single person, you may also have close friendships with other singles, or other families. Keep Romans 12 in mind as you navigate those relationships.

6. Finally, build a Godly home by being a leader of example.

Can you say to your spiritual children, “I want you to follow my example as I follow Christ”? (If you’re not sure who your spiritual children are, you may want to reassess your stated morality of church attendance, service to the local church, and accountability.) In Bible times, there was a stereotype for single women (in the case of young widows) of becoming idle, and of becoming busybodies. What can be said of the godliness of your speech, your maturation in the fruit of the Spirit (patience, kindness, self-control), your purity, your pursuit of God, personal discipline, and your commitment to moral principles? All of these flow out of the way that you understand your leadership and management and its connection to your head, which is Christ.

Reflecting on these haphazard thoughts, I realize that there is a great need to study even deeper into the Biblical meaning of a “home” and to reflect more fully on the meaning of a home for single women. Had I more time, I would also sift through a lot more Scripture focusing on the more traditionally-thought-to-be-female aspects of household management of hospitality and relationship. Obviously, my list here is incomplete, but it’s a start. Blessings as you ponder.

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What Happens After You Believe?

A basic question every Christian has at one time or another is: so what’s the whole point? What does Christianity DO? Is Christianity working? After I believe in my heart and confess with mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, what’s supposed to happen?

I remember discussing Christianity with a Chinese classmate at Ohio State at the café in Thompson Library. I was interviewing her for a missions class I was taking off-campus, and we were discussing the basic tenets of Christianity. I clumsily explained the steps of salvation and then came up for air.

She nodded: “Okay, but does your life change?”

Me: “…”

Chinese classmate: “?”

Me: “Oh. Well. YES! It does! …For example, um, I would say that you become… more… peaceful?”

Chinese classmate: “Okay, but does your behavior change? Like do you stop doing the things you used to do before you become a Christian?” (Honestly, she was being a better missionary than even I was at that moment.)

For some reason, this question jolted me then and has since been one that I contemplate. I might even ask YOU this question. What EXACTLY is the nature of a life affected by Christ?

“To become like Christ,” you fire off. “To be a better person.”

Why, I ask you? And, how? How EXACTLY does one become like Christ? May I ask what are the steps and the methods? Exactly?

This summer I finished a book which has answered for me, in part, that question. It’s called After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N.T. Wright.

It’s the sequel to another excellent book called Surprised by Hope (which I also highly recommend) in which Wright doesn’t so much present new topics as he reminds us what we’ve always known according to the Bible, but have sometimes let contemporary society drown out. What happens, for example, after you die? There is a bodily resurrection, and Wright explains why this is so important and how that changes how we live here on Earth. But some Christians miss this part about LIVING ON EARTH. (Remember Miss Maudie in To Kill a Mockingbird? “There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one.”) It’s as if Wright notices the same. Perhaps he is perplexed by separatist Christians jamming fingers in their ears, determined they’re “not listening” to the world, and seeking only to “endure” this life until they get to the real one, heaven. Wright complicates this, determined to explore the mystery of “Why are we here?” and he does so by “rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church.” By the end of the book, one begins seriously examining the notion of God’s intention to redeem all creation back to Himself and, against all odds, His inviting us to join Him in that work.

 

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Wright’s not always a light read, but at times his Britishisms and friendly, conversational tone are downright charming. He also provides a fascinating introduction to the landscape of British Christianity, which is in fact the viewpoint from which he is writing. Besides being one of the world’s top biblical scholars, he is also a Bishop for the Church of England.

This is the backdrop for reading After You Believe in which, having firmly in place the idea that all Christians are called to redemptive life works, Wright focuses a little bit more on the how. If all Christians exist for the purpose of uniting with God in His grand design to ultimately redeem all things to Himself, then there must be a way that God intends for us to go about that.

Some points he makes:

  1. Wright ties worship and mission together with Christian holiness, indicating that two without the other, well, in fact, aren’t:

    “The high calling of Christian morality is therefore the necessary handmaid of the still higher callings of Christian worship and mission. The virtues which constitute the former are the vital components of the latter. The only way for worship and mission to become second nature to the followers of Jesus is for the virtues, the Spirit’s fruit, the passion for unity, and the celebration of the multiply varied vocations within the one body all to become second nature as well” (247).

  1. Wright further expounds on the why of Christian virtue and warns against common misunderstandings. For example, we don’t “put on virtue” to either receive rewards or to avoid punishment.

    “Jesus is not meaning either ‘If you can manage to behave in this way, you will be rewarded’ (a kind of legalist solution) or ‘Now that you’ve believed in me and my kingdom project, this is how you must behave’ (the sort of thing some post-Reformation theology might insist on)… What Jesus is saying, rather, is, ‘Now that I’m here, God’s new world is coming to birth; and, once you realize that, you’ll see that these are the habits of heart which anticipate that new world here and now.’ These qualities—purity of heart, mercy, and so on—are … in themselves, the signs of life, the language of life, the life of new creation, the life of new covenant, the life which Jesus came to bring” (106).

    Here is Wright’s notion that Christian virtue is an expression of the Gospel (the advent of God’s kingdom) which has already come to pass and is coming to pass.

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  1. Another claim by Wright is that one doesn’t attain Christian virtue simply by “following Jesus’ example” as it is so commonly (and awfully) put these days. (One way that many people approach this question of “How shall we live?” is pointing out Christ as the great example.) Wright has some terse words about this.

    “To what extent would this be a helpful, or even possible, line to pursue? At one level, it certainly wouldn’t be helpful and might well not even be possible. Holding up Jesus as an example of how to live a moral life seems rather like holding up Tiger Woods as an example of how to hit a golf ball. Even if I started now and practiced for eight hours a day, it is highly unlikely that I would ever be able to do what Woods can do; and there are many people out there, younger and fitter than I, who are trying their hardest to do it and still find they can’t. Similarly, watching Jesus—with his astonishing blend of wisdom, gentleness, shrewdness, dry humor, patience with blundering followers, courage in confronting evil, self-control in innumerable situations of temptation… makes most of us, all but the most proud and ambitious, feel like we do when watching Tiger Woods hit a golf ball. Only more so” (126).

    Wright goes on to explain how expecting virtue to proceed from watching Jesus as example is not only improbable, but also simplistic and untrue to Jesus’ conquering nature:

    “It is basically safe: it removes the far more dangerous challenge of supposing that God might actually be coming to transform this earth, and us within it, with the power and justice of heaven, and it neatly helps us avoid the fact, as all four gospels see it, that this could be achieved only through the shocking and horrible events of Jesus’s death. Jesus as ‘moral example’ is a domesticated Jesus, a kind of religious mascot. We look at him approvingly and decide we’ll copy him (up to a point at least, and no doubt he’ll forgive us the rest because he’s a decent sort of chap.) As if! If all we need is a good example, we can’t be in quite such a bad state as some people (including Jesus himself) have suggested. Over against all such notions stands the entire tradition from Jeremiah with his warnings about the deceitful heart, through John the Baptist, with his warnings about the ax being laid to the roots of the tree, through Paul, with his warnings that if righteousness had come by the Law the Messiah wouldn’t have need to die, through to Ambrose, Augustine, Luther, Kierkegaard . . . and a host of others. And of course Jesus himself. He doesn’t go about saying, ‘This is how it’s done, copy me.’ He says, ‘God’s kingdom is coming; take up your cross and follow me.’” (126-27).

    It seems that expecting the appearance of virtue simply from “Jesus’ example” is just bad theologically, not to mention downright unBiblical.

  1. We can agree, then, that there is a process to learning virtue and it admittedly takes effort. Wright compares learning Christian virtue to learning a foreign language as an adult.

    “You will often get it wrong, but it’s worth persisting for the goal… of what lies ahead. If you’re an English speaker learning German, you must continually remind yourself that the verb comes at the end of the sentence. And, even in a language quite like your own (think of an Italian learning Spanish), there will be quite a large amount of vocabulary which just has to be memorized. This requires mental effort, the conscious, acted-out intention to imprint these patterns, with their physical outworkings (the contortions of tongue, teeth, lips, and vocal chords), upon the brain, aiming at the point when they will happen without effort and indeed without conscious thought. It is exactly this kind of complex effort, as we shall see, which the early Christians described when they were urging one another to develop the character which anticipated God’s new world” (40-41).

    Certainly, some sort of human patience and “practicing” is necessary.

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  1. But what about “practicing”? In his book, Wright brings clarity to age-old arguments about virtue, especially the one about hypocrisy. He concedes that invariably the question will be asked:

    “If developing character by slow, long practice is what it’s all about, doesn’t that mean that for most of that time we will be acting hypocritically, play-acting, pretending to be virtuous when actually we aren’t? And isn’t that kind of hypocrisy itself the very opposite of genuine Christian living?” (58).

    But Wright deflects this question (vehemently answered YES! by the likes of Martin Luther) by giving a voice to none other than Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

    “‘Putting it on’ is all right. It isn’t hypocrisy, Hamlet is saying. It’s the way virtue comes into its own:
    Refrain tonight;
    And that shall lend a kind of easiness
    To the next abstinence; the next more easy;
    For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
    And either curb the devil, or throw him,
    With wondrous potency. (lines 165-170)
    The alternative is to let ‘custom’—that is, the force of regular behavior which carves a groove in our minds and our behavior patterns—so dictate to us that we cannot see sense (lines 37-38)” (59).

    If we never put on, then our custom may be to continually follow a pattern of behavior which is not good. Wright goes on to express the possibilities of changing our custom not only to virtuous behavior but also to the custom of embracing and inviting virtuous behavior:

    “Instead, such ‘custom’ or ‘use’ should be turned to good effect, helping us to ‘put on’ virtues which do not come naturally to begin with but which will do so in time (lines 161-165). It is remarkable, he says, what can be achieved by this means” (59).

    Thank you, Hamlet.

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  1. Getting back to the how, Wright makes the point that we shall be transformed (to answer my Chinese friend’s question) by the renewing of our minds. “Oh, good!” you say, “now I can finally know how to live!” But I will warn you that Wright refuses to offer a 10-step approach. First, he argues that before a transformation can take place, your mindset must be renewed. To get to this, Wright pulls out Paul’s New Testament vision of Christians being “daytime” people, as it were. First, one has to be utterly convinced that God’s kingdom and redemptive work has already come to pass and is already being worked out in the world. This knowledge gives one the confidence to begin the life-long journey of renewing one’s mind. (Again, read Wright’s first book Surprised by Hope for more on that.) Wright points out that the Beatitudes are a picture of this. The blessings listed there are a picture of God’s ordered world, not how things perhaps are now but ultimately will be, due to God unleashing His blessing on the world. Christians must, then, develop ways of being that ultimately reflect this upcoming ordered world. We must be people of the day.

    “For Paul, faith, hope, and love are already given in Christ and by the Spirit, and it is possible to live by them. But you have to work at it. And to work at it you have to want to live in the daytime. You have to understand how your own moral life functions. You have to think through what it all means and how it all works. You have to develop, consciously and deliberately, the habits of heart, mind, soul, and strength that will sustain this life of faith, hope, and love” (138).

    (Hmmm, what are these “habits”? Do I have them and how do I develop them?) Then Wright supports his vision that the knowledge of God’s new order is necessary before this virtue appears by quoting Colossians and I John.
    DSC_0593.JPGAdditionally, in these passages, Wright admits the challenges that many of us avoid in our pursuit of virtue.

    “What then is Paul saying in Colossians that Christians must do? Answer: he is telling them to develop, in the present, the character which will truly anticipate the life of the coming age… What we need to grasp, as being of the essence of his summons to Christian virtue, is the moral effort involved. ‘Put to death . . .’ (3:5), ‘put away . . .’ (3:8), ‘put on . . .’ (3:14)” (143).

    This is a point which I think many of us shy away from. That it actually takes work to define one’s character.

    “[Paul] does not say, ‘You might to try giving up a bit of this’ or ‘If it feels all right to you, think about doing without some of these thing.’ He says, ‘Put them to death.’ If you don’t kill them, they will kill you (3:6). This is not, we must stress, because God will suddenly invoke some arbitrary and tyrannical divine prohibition to cramp our style, stop us having a good time, or punish us if we step out of line. Rather, it is because these styles of behavior lead directly, as a matter of necessity, into corruption, decay, and death and hence away from the new creation where heaven and earth come together and resurrection results” (143).

    In essence, these particular “natural” ways of being do not foreshadow God’s ultimate redemption of all created things and therefore must be avoided.DSC_0790.JPGBut Wright does not leave us in a legalistic time-out to think about how bad we’ve been behaving. No, rather, he points to the glorious dawning of God’s new order, reminding us that we are already awake to this new life.

    “As we saw, that future state is, for the Christian, the resurrection to a body like that of the risen Jesus Christ, a resurrection to share in the new world, the new creation that has already begun with him, and in which God’s people are to be a royal priesthood, the genuine human beings through whom God’s world is brought into glorious flourishing and order” (141).

    Since Christians have been translated into this new world order THAT ALREADY IS AND IS GOING TO CONTINUE TO BE, we can ask ourselves the question how might God expect it to come about. We have already touched on the renewing of our minds, first by announcing that one must be convinced of the this new order and be convinced of one’s own place in this new order, that is, that a Christian has already been inducted into this new life. If you are a Christian, you WILL receive the virtue of God Himself (I John 2:28, 3:2-3).What Wright does is he continually suggests that setting a goal is paramount to actually achieving some sort of Christian virtue.

    “This same setting of the goal—the goal of complete and finished product of humaness—drives and shapes the habits of mind, heart, and body which will lead to that finished product and, in addition, drives and shapes the way in which those habits must be clearly understood, chosen, and learned” (167).

    This is the mind-renewal which must firmly be in place before one can expect any transformation at all.

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  1. Next, Wright discusses the importance of what I earlier pointed out as “habits.” One of the most important things that I came away with from this book is that what happens after you believe is a new life of new habits formed by a life-giving knowledge: that knowledge of God’s intended order. And I continue to explore ways in which those habits of thinking and being might be formed. For Wright there are a variety of ways (though he does NOT spend his book exploring what to DO to ACHIEVE, this is not his style but rather arguing for a case for Christian virtue) but he does hint at times how these might look for the curious Christian:

    “A rich mutual ministry of the word, then, is what Paul has in mind: the word bought taught and sung, telling and retelling the story of God, the world, Israel, Jesus Christ, and (not least) the future hope. The aim is that individual Christians might have their minds and hearts awakened and alerted to fresh visions of God’s reality, of the final hope set before them, and be able to discern in a fresh way what habits of mind and heart and body are necessary if they are to grow into the people God intends” (169).

    There are various habits or pathways within which a development of Christian virtue might occur, and Wright discusses these throughout his book.

  1. But for those of you practical folk, Wright doesn’t leave you hanging and after an entire book of comparing early Christian views of virtue in Pauline writings to even earlier views of morality, in the final chapter, he finally hints at the ways in which a Christian might think of answering this question of what happens after you believe and how it comes about. (Hints, because, Wright does not insult us with a 10 step approach.) In the final chapter he answers the question: “how can virtue be practiced?” Wright offers a circular approach by which these virtues might come about: scripture, stories, examples, community, and practices (260).First, Scripture:

    “The practice of reading scripture, studying scripture, acting scripture, singing scripture—generally soaking oneself in scripture as an individual and community—has been seen from the earliest days of Christianity as central to the formation of Christian character” (261).

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    Being Church of English, Wright necessarily makes a case for the use of liturgy and its ability to impress scripture upon believers. One such passage which I enjoyed and simply have to share with you: 

    “The church needs constantly to learn, and constantly to be working on, the practice of telling and retelling the great stories of the world and Israel, especially the creation and the Exodus; the great promises that emerged from those stories; and the ways in which those promises came to their fruition in Jesus Christ. The reading of Scripture—the written account of those stories—has therefore always been central to the church’s worship. It isn’t only that people need to be reminded what the stories say (though that is increasingly important in an age where otherwise ‘educated’ people simply don’t know the Jewish and Christian stories at all). It’s that these stories should be rehearsed in acts of celebration and worship, ‘telling out the greatness of the Lord,’ as Mary sang in the Magnificat. Good liturgy uses tried and tested ways of making sure that scripture is read thoroughly and clearly, and is constantly on the lookout for ways of doing it even more effectively—just as good liturgy is also eager to discover better and better ways of singing and praying the Psalms together, so that they come to be ‘second nature’ within the memory, imagination, and spirituality of all the worshiping faithful, not just of a few musically minded leaders” (225).

    But Scripture is not the only way to develop virtue, Wright offers.

    “Scripture trains us to listen to and learn from stories of all kinds, inside the sacred text and outside, and to discern patterns and meaning within them. And stories of all sorts form and shape the character of those who read them” (264).

    Wright goes on to make an excellent argument for the study of all literature, an argument that as a teacher of literature I find highly validating.

    “Within the Christian tradition there is special reason to pay attention to stories. Many of the great writers in the world have been deeply formed by the Jewish and/or Christian tradition, and their thoughtful words can help us to reflect on that tradition more deeply. But Christians believe that all human life is itself a gift of God and, however much it may be distorted, a reflection of God. Thus even stories written by writers who are explicitly atheist—indeed, writers whose words were intended to mock or dismiss God—have a strange knack of making crucial points about what it means to be human, about the importance of love and justice and beauty. Living within the world of stories increases—if we let it—the capacity for discernment” (265).

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    Besides Scripture and stories, Wright offers “examples” as another pathway to Christian virtue. I have already mentioned that Wright discounts “example” alone to be a pathway. It only works once knowledge and a greater understanding of “what will be” are firmly rooted in the believer. However, once these things are in place, “examples” may well be a pathway to Christian virtue. Both the example of Jesus but also countless other Biblical and nonbiblical examples (268-269).Add to examples community, including the large church abroad, the home congregation, and small groups, which Wright breaks down for us:

    “It may be a parish church, it may be a neighborhood Bible study group, it may be a group that meets to plan strategy in relation to local social issues, whatever—where sharply focused learning can happen and where decisive action can be planned and taken. Here the habits are formed by Christian friends, neighbors, and colleagues working together, prayer together, sharing one another’s lives and sorrows and frustrations and excitements” (274).

    Wright then presents a beautiful pictures of what he means by community—how exceedingly diverse, yet unified in spirit we can expect our smallest “communities” to be.

    “Here is Jane slowly thinking through the plan to meet women ex-offenders when they emerge from prison, to prevent them going back to the new habits that got them there in the first place. Here is Jack, full of a new Bible study guide he’s been reading, which he knows will open the whole group’s eyes to vistas of truth previously unimagined. Here is Jeff, who has been talking to the local education authority about starting a preschool for the young children of single parents (of whom there are many in the area) who have nothing to do when Mom goes out. Here is Lisa, who has been writing some new music for use at the Sunday night service for which a motley crew of young people typically drifts in. The point of introducing you to this four, and millions like them in small groups around the world, is that they are learning the habits of heart and life together. The point of ‘virtue’ for them is not that any will become the kind of striking ‘leader’ who will win awards, be recognized on the street, and appear on television chat shows. Nor is the point that they are all just like one another. They are not; they are very different characters, with different gifts and vocations and temperaments and social and cultural backgrounds… In order to work together, these four, and the others in their local fellowship, have to develop the fruit of the Spirit. If they don’t have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, they won’t get very far. Their fellowship will fragment. Each one will go off and do his or her own thing, muttering about the lack of vision of the rest of the church. This is what I mean when I say that the church, the community of God’s people, is the forum within which virtue is learned and practiced” (274-75).

    Finally, Wright cites “practices” of the body of believers as the final pathway of developing virtue in the believer. These community practices include the shared worship of communion and baptism, prayer, tithing, and reading scripture.So there you have it:

  1. (Worship + mission) – virtue = 0
  2. Putting on virtue is the sign of life.
  3. Virtue is not attainable by following example alone.
  4. Virtue is a process that requires effort.
  5. Practicing virtue is not hypocritical.
  6. Virtue cannot come about until your mind is renewed.
  7. There are habits within which virtue is more likely to come about.
  8. A cycle of scripture, stories, examples, community, and practices is most effective for the putting on of virtue.

Herein have I offered you the best bits of N.T. Wright’s After You Believe. I invite you to read the book for yourself to more fully answer for yourself the why and how of what happens after you believe.

What Christian Apologists Think You Should Read

What if you had the chance to ask the world’s leading Christian apologists for a book recommendation? Assuming you love reading, this could be your most interesting conversation all month!

Last week I had the opportunity to hear some of the most respected Christian apologists answer this question at a conference on the evidence for the Christian faith in Bangor, Maine. Sitting front-row at this all-day event, I heard speakers offering arguments in defense of the Christian faith, as they sought to equip believers and challenge seekers with the credible and convincing evidence for the relevance of Jesus Christ.

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Presenting apologists included Randy David Newman, Dick Keyes, Lee Strobel, Tom Woodward, and Ravi Zacharias.  Besides these speakers, there were numerous workshops and breakout sessions throughout the day and (my main reason for attending the conference) music by the Oasis Chorale (featuring yours truly!). (Not very many Christian events feature music by a capella Mennonite choirs, but props to Daryl Witmer of the AIIA Institute for organizing this anomaly. It was a gift to share in song at this incredible event.)

At an afternoon panel discussion, the speakers were asked to give a book recommendation. “What is one book besides the Bible that everyone ought to read?” Following is an introduction to each speaker and their top reading picks:

1. Randy David Newman recommends The Reason for God by Tim Keller.

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According to the WhyJesus2016 website, Randy David Newman is “a nationally-known Christian disciple, evangelist, apologist, and author. He has served on staff with CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) since 1980. He has taught seminars at locations ranging from college campuses to the Pentagon. Newman often uses humor to make a point and his books offer a proven and practical approach to Christian witnessing.”

Randy David Newman spoke on the topic of evangelism, and he told of his conversion to Christianity from Judaism. Regarding evangelism, his humor was refreshing: “You know those people who say they can’t go to sleep at night unless they’ve had the chance to tell at least one person that day about Jesus? How is it that if I haven’t told someone about Jesus, I can go to sleep at night JUST FINE?! Or those people who pray for a nonbeliever to sit beside them on an airplane so that they can witness to them? I pray for there to be an EMPTY SEAT beside me on the airplane!”

Besides his refreshing honesty, his most salient points were the art of engaging seekers and skeptics in conversation and answering questions with questions in the same manner that Jesus does in the New Testament. His book recommendation is Tim Keller’s Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, a book which addresses common doubts about religion and explains how belief in God is actually rational.

2. Dick Keyes (rhymes with “wise”) recommends The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer.

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First, you ought to know about the organization with which Dick Keyes is affiliated: the L’Abri fellowship. The L’Abri fellowship was first started in Switzerland in 1955 by Francis and Edith Shaeffer who decided to open their home as a place for college students and seeking individuals to ask their deepest questions and to find satisfying answers while experiencing Christian community. Labri.org reports that “it was called L’Abri, the French word for “shelter,” because they sought to provide a shelter from the pressures of a relentlessly secular 20th century.” Imagine spending extended time in a safe place, sorting out your spiritual questions, while breathing in the alpine air in a chalet in the mountains! The ministry of L’Abri has grown, and today L’Abri locations exist in 10 different countries. (Read: you can still experience this intellectual homecoming today! Communities exist in England, Holland, Massachusetts, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Brazil, and more.)

Regarding Mr. Keyes background, labri.org gives this bio: “Dick Keyes is the Director of L’Abri Fellowship in Southborough, Massachusetts, where he has worked with his wife and family since 1979. He holds a B.A. in History from Harvard University, and an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dick has worked for L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland and in England, where he served also as a pastor in the International Presbyterian Church in London for eight years. He has been an adjunct professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of Beyond Identity, True Heroism, Chameleon Christianity, Seeing Through Cynicism, and several chapters in anthologies such as No God But God, ed. Os Guinnes, Finding God at Harvard, ed. Kelly Monroe, and New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics from Intervarsity Press. He is currently writing a book on the significance of Jesus’ questions. He has lectured widely in the U.S. and also in Europe and Korea.” Certainly, he was very qualified to speak at this event!

I truly enjoyed Dick Keyes’s academic approach to the question, “If I’m Okay, Why Jesus?” (his talk which responded to the view that sin is obsolete). (Random fact: Dick Keyes commented to our director that he liked Oasis’s consonants. Yay, choral diction!) Naturally, at the panel discussion, Dick Keyes recommended a book by the founder of L’Abri, the community with which he is highly involved. Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There confronts not only the origin but also the future of competing philosophies of the church and the world, and Schaeffer’s book highlights how the God who has always been there is the answer for life’s deepest problems.

3. Lee Strobel recommends Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace.

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A household name for many, Lee Strobel is a Christian author, journalist, speaker, and highly respected Christian apologist. You might be familiar with Strobel’s life story of working as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune and, despite originally confessing atheism, converting to Christianity after investigating Biblical claims over a period of two years.

Strobel spoke on making a case for the real historical Christ, drawing heavily on his personal testimony and his own investigations. Strobel recommends reading C.S.Lewis’s Mere Christianity, a book which expounds on beliefs that the Christian faith holds true. Certainly, C.S. Lewis’s writing is a powerful display of Christian apologetics.

Secondly, Strobel recommends J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, a book which, I assume, imitates Strobel’s methods. An L.A. homicide cold-case detective and former atheist uses the skills of criminal investigating to produce evidence for the Christian faith, a topic which could be considered a “cold case”: it makes a claim about the distant past, and there is little forensic evidence to rely on.

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4. Thomas E. Woodward recommends essays by C.S. Lewis in God in the Dock.

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Tom Woodward (a Columbus, Ohio native–woot!) is a research professor and department chair of the theology department at Trinity College of Florida and a prominent Christian apologist. Published works by Woodward include those defending intelligent design and those disputing Darwin’s theory of evolution. (He is not one, though, that should be written off as one of those obnoxious brands of creationists.) Speaking on “Why Jesus? Why Not Science?”, Woodward presented an engaging lecture that touched on neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and space exploration (engaging, because besides his Bachelors in History from Princeton, his Masters of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, he also has a Doctorate of Communications from the University of South Florida!). So the whole time, I found myself reservedly thinking: you are so convincing and charismatic. Which rhetorical mode are you wielding expertly now?  

What I was struck with from Woodward’s talk was his comments on the limits of science (something that I’ve recognized myself: science is not actually objective [i.e. we research where there are funds to research, and funds are normally appropriated for “money-making” scientific endeavors]) and also his suggestion that the theory of evolution is currently undergoing a major, bone-crushing paradigm shift, which, as he explains, means basically that Darwinian evolution is a sinking Titanic that is taking on water. This paradigm shift of the questioning of Darwinian evolution is going on at the highest level, and these questions are being asked by the brightest minds and most respected scientific scholars at the most elite academic journals. (You can find this information published by the Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press.) In fact, the UK’s Royal Society is meeting later this year to discuss the evolution paradigm shift and what it means for science and society. (Er, I quickly googled this topic, and this left-wing newsletter explains some of the ins and outs of the conversation of the paradigm shift and what it means among scientists.) Enlightening, at the very least.

A note: when questioned, Woodward wouldn’t allow himself to be cornered into either a young-earth or old-earth perspective; rather, he argues for a case of intelligent design.

Woodward’s recommendation for reading on apologetics is a series of essays published in God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis, including “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?”, “Man or Rabbit?”, and “Religion and Science.”

5. Ravi Zacharias recommends The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel and Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

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Ravi Zacharias is a speaker, author, and dynamic defender of historic Christian truth. He is the author of numerous books, the host of radio programs, the founder of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and has six honorary doctoral degrees. Growing up in a nominal Christian family, Ravi Zacharias was an atheist, and when he was seventeen, he tried to commit suicide. Lying in the hospital due to his failed suicide attempt, he became a Christian after reading in the Gospel of John. Since that moment, Ravi Zacharias remains committed to the pursuit of truth through the person of Jesus Christ. Ravi Zacharias works as a scholar, lectures, writes, and represents evangelical Christianity at the National Day of Prayer in Washington, D.C. and at the Annual Prayer Breakfast at the United Nations.

Speaking on “Why Jesus? Why Should Anyone Follow This First Century Religious Figure?” Ravi Zacharias left us spellbound as he wove together logical reasoning, personal experience, and poetry in a display of evidence for the Christian faith. Books on apologetics which Ravi Zacharias recommends include The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, the books which explain Strobel’s coming to faith due to his investigative reporting.

Another book Ravi Zacharias recommends is C.S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy, a book which describes Lewis’s movement from atheism to theism and from theism to Christianity, all motivated by the discovery of joy.

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This concludes the panel discussion book recommendations. Happy reading everyone! I hope this list points you to some great reading this summer!

At the close here, I’ll offer three bonus books, or honorable mentions, which were not mentioned in the panel discussion but by certain speakers throughout the conference, which I deem interesting enough to read myself.

Bonus Book #1: Andrew Delbanco’s The Death of Satan

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Dick Keyes referenced this book in his talk which responded to the problematic view that sin is obsolete. One of the issues we face today is the idea that “I’m okay / I don’t have a sin problem / Sin isn’t even a thing.” Before we respond to this viewpoint, it may be helpful to understand American culture’s historical shift in its understanding of sin and evil. Delbano’s book seeks to do just that. Amazon.com describes the book this way: “Through the writings of America’s major figures, a professor at Columbia University traces the change in Americans’ view of evil over the nation’s history from a clear, religious understanding to a perplexed helplessness.” I totally just ordered this book from my local bookstore.

Bonus Book #2: Langdon Gilkey’s Shantung Compound

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Dick Keyes additionally mentioned Gilkey’s book in relation to the idea that sin is obsolete. Shantung Compound, published in 1975, is a vivid diary of life in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, and it examines the moral challenges encountered in conditions of confinement and deprivation. Reviewers mention that the book is a powerful depiction of the human condition and that the book is more important now than when it was originally written.

Bonus Book #3: Dikkon Eberhart’s The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told

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In his evening address, Ravi Zacharias mentioned that his wife is a voracious reader and that this is his wife’s favorite book. Not only that, but also the author Dikkon Eberhart (who lives in coastal Maine) was sitting in the audience!

Eberhart grew up in a literary household: his father was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and their home regularly featured literary greats among their dinner guests: Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, and others. These famous poets were Eberhart’s family friends, yet Eberhart strove to leave his father’s literary shadow. This memoir is a coming-of-age story which deals with the theme of identity. (No order necessary, the used bookstore had a copy in stock! I’ll be starting this one soon!)

Thank God for Facebook: A Poem About the Status of Affirmation Markets

Where else can you buy friends through
the economic exchange of numerous pics and posts?

It is a curious thing to donate your time and energy to
agreeing with ideas (that can be counted).

The worker’s wages are classical conditioning,
minus the cost of employment
plus the benefits of feeling less lovely
and then you can add a photo.

The more you complain and comment,
the more you’re liked and loved.
You don’t count it all joy, but
you do count all your notifications.

You search for people, places, and things,
You update statuses and “save changes,” yet
you never save changes in your first relationship
(because you don’t relate to the sonship
you once knew).
Your spiritual profile needs updating,
but first you need help editing your on-and-off-line relationships.

You shop for affirmation in your newsfeed–
You skim ads, looking for a better life than the one you’re already buying into.
You’re shocked to learn that it costs to promote yourself.
(You know,
it shouldn’t be a surprise that
this free market costs a lot.

I’ll tell you that your self-promotion is expensive.
It cost him, who made himself nothing, everything.
You don’t remember him?
Maybe that’s because you defriended him
and bought friends to replace him who bought you.

I think you must feel that the economy of immediacy is more valuable
than the price of eternal intimacy.

It’s clear you’re selling out.

You might say: who needs God?
You certainly don’t need him because you have: a white rectangle that’s asking what’s on your mind.