In the book, Resident Aliens, by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Williamon, there is an account of a church that sought to serve its community through the creation of a preschool that would ultimately function as a daycare for families with both parents working full-time. The book presented a woman who asked hard questions about how our cultural norms in American society can seep into our church community’s services. Her thought was that parents should be raising their kids and not childcare facilitators/teachers who are overseeing all the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of multiple kids, often times starting as young as six weeks old, for 8 to 12-hour time periods. if people are doing this anyways, it seems reasonable that the Church can provide the childcare and thus ensure a Christian environment, but the lady in Resident Aliens challenged her church to say to hell with reason – don’t encourage parents to pawn their kids off so they can have more material goods!
In 1948, only 17% of all married mothers were in the workforce. By 1985, this percentage rose to 61% and by 1995, it was at 70%. In 2011, 68% of all women with children under 6 in America were working or looking for work. Another way of viewing this rising trend in working mothers who is to look at the changes that have occurred in childcare practices. Today less than one-third of all children have a full-time stay at home parent, but in 1975 over half of all children had a stay at home parent, who was usually the mother. Almost a quarter of all children under 5 in America are in some form of organized child-care system. The point in giving these statistics is demonstrate that in American history it is a relatively new societal norm to have both parents working with their children being raised and cared for outside of the home by people who are not relatives, and from experience I know that this is a very common work and childcare dynamic found among Christians. In response to this working trend, many churches do have all-day preschools/daycares – and so the hard question raised in Resident Aliens deserves attention – are these churches encouraging and propagating an American societal norm that is against God’s design for families (families in any society that is)?
Acknowledging that there are many diverse reasons as to why many families have shifted away from a single-income for their family to have both the father and the mother working full-time, in this paper I seek to pinpoint one error that I am convinced is the underlying core reason for the trend of mothers with young children to enter the workforce along with their husband, and that error is a misunderstanding of what it means for men and women to be equal. In their article, “The History of Womanhood That Feminists Don’t Want You to Know,” the Botkin Sisters debunk four common myths about the goodness of feminism for women, and the first myth is the notion, “Before feminism, women were not as valued and did not have as many rights.” Their answer is rarely spoken, even among Christians, so it might seem startlingly to read:
Before feminism, the Bible declared men’s and women’s equal standing and value before God – and in fact teaches this more consistently than any other religious or secular doctrine. In Scripture, man’s work and woman’s work are equally valid – wifehood, motherhood, homemaking, and femininity are not belittled, and women are not guilt-manipulated into living and acting like men. On the contrary; woman’s distinctiveness from man is praised and honored, and her unique role is held vital. Women were to be protected and cherished, to “attain honor” (Prov. 11:16) and be “praised in the gates” (Prov. 31:31). It wasn’t until the advent of women’s “liberation” that women were told, “Your value as a woman is determined by how well you can perform as a man. Being a woman is no longer enough.
They further counter this myth by pointing out that long before feminism, “the Bible also gave the world strict laws to protect women from abuse, rape, incest, abandonment, injustice, and more. Moreover, it gave women something our legal system doesn’t: a whole system of provisions for women who end up in hard circumstances.” And finally, they put a nail in the coffin of the myth that men and women are equal in value because of feminism by pointing out the reality that:
Speaking historically as well as theologically, Christianity is the only social, spiritual, and political force that gives women true value and rights. It is the anti-Christian religions (including Marxism, Islam, and feminism) that demean, undervalue, and exploit women; throughout history, it was the Christian societies that truly valued women, protected women, and honored women (insofar as those societies were faithful to the Bible’s actual teachings).
Their list of anti-Christian religions was far from exhaustive, but I would like to add another anti-Christian religion to their list, Hinduism. When someone from the West who is largely operating from a Judeo-Christian influenced morality, even if she is not Jewish or Christian, looks at the value and rights of women in Indian society influenced by Hinduism throughout history all the way to present day and sees the complete devaluing of women, and after doing that takes a good hard look at Islamic countries and the value of women – it should become pretty obvious that women around the whole world are indebted to the value and rights of women taught in the Bible. Just as scientists practicing the scientific method must steal from the Christian worldview to justify the validity of their repeated experiments, feminists must steal from the Christian worldview to justify their claim that men and women are equal and that women have the same rights as men. Rights, after all, if they are to be inherent in all humans in all places and in all times, must come from a higher source than humanity; they must come from God. And it is in Christianity that we are clearly told that the first man and the first woman were both created in the image of God, both created in his likeness. (Genesis 1:27) It is from this creation narrative that we understand that men and women have equal value – both being created in the image of God.
The error in understanding this equality is that equality has come to be understood as equal performance, or equal outcome, or the potential for equal performance and equal outcome in all facets of life. Men and women are thought to be equal in every way. This misunderstanding of equality is what has given rise to more and more women with young children in the workforce leaving their six week old infants into the hands of another woman for the majority of their waking day. Equality has come to be understood as equal performance, or equal outcome. This is why we hear the common mantras, “A woman can do anything a man can do” and “Whatever a man can do, a woman can also do.” Then there is the truly woke mantra: “Whatever a man can do, a woman can do better.”
The 30-second sound bite to refuting this misunderstanding of equality as sameness is to point out that by God’s design a woman cannot impregnate herself or another woman, and that I as a man am horrible at giving birth and breastfeeding, as are all men.
For a longer answer, I want to first offer a math equation as an explanation of how two things can be both equal and not the same at the same time, before giving a Biblical foundation for the uniquely God-given roles of men and women in society and within the family.
2 + 2 = 4. This is an extremely simple equation. Both sides have the same value, 4. In value, they are equal. However, if I added categorical values to each number, such as, 2 men + 2 women = 4 men, I have maintained an equal number of humans, but on each side there are now differences that make each side unequal in potential outcome and abilities. If the goal was to win a 4 x 100m race, the side with 4 men has the vastly distinct advantage. If the goal was to colonize a new planet, taking 2 married couples would be of much greater value to the objective of procreation and building a society on a different planet than taking 4 men – due to obvious reasons of biological differences. Both sides still have four humans created in the image of God and are equal in value in that sense, but due to the created differences between the sexes they are different in operational value depending on the role and expectations placed upon the two sides.
The appeal I’m making to different God-given roles for each of the sexes can be found in the curses God gave to the man and to the woman after the Fall into sin in Genesis 3. The woman was cursed to have pain in childbearing – a role that was uniquely given to her and not to man. The distinguishing glory of womanhood is now cursed. She also was cursed to desire her husband’s headship over her. By being created first, man was given the place of headship over the woman. In addition to being created second in time, woman was created from man. What was built and designed by God within his order of creation is now cursed… woman will now desire the place of headship (leadership, provision, protection, and the ultimate accountability and responsibility before God for the safety and well-being of families and societies). The role built into creation for man is now also cursed… his work (care and stewardship over creation and within his family) shall be painful.
Paul is very clear about this created order in 1 Timothy 2:12-15. The created order is why he does not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man within the church – even if she is capable of teaching better than all the men in the congregation. By Adam being created first, he was by his created order put into the position of teacher. He named the animals before Eve was created, and within the creation narrative of Genesis 2, God gives him the commands not to eat of the forbidden fruit, as well as the command to procreate, but God does not give these commands to Eve. Adam was thus thrust into the position of teacher by God. By the nature of his created order, Adam taught Eve the names of the animals and taught her God’s commands.
What is quite ironic then is that now that women have ascended to manhood, by “holding any position a man can hold in society,” women are now doubly cursed. They have taken man’s curse of labor in provision for the family upon themselves, while still holding to their curse of bearing children in painful births. As women struggle in pain for the headship of man within their marriages and families, more and more pain comes upon both the man and woman as the headship of the man is constantly challenged by the wife who is intentionally and constantly going outside of her God-given and designed role within the family and society, often times under the blessing and encouragement of her husband.
As I stated at the outset, I understand that there is a plethora of reasons why many families have both parents working full-time with their young children being handed off into the entrusted care of someone else, but the desire for women to be like men and to get their worth through such endeavors of work is seriously hurting women, men, and their children. Both men and women are immensely valuable in the eyes of God – both were created in his image. In Christ there is no distinction made between male nor female in the economy of salvation – all are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Our work does not merit us any extra value before God… whether it is done in the home with children or in the fields of labor. However, following God’s design and intended will for his creation is a sign of bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, and in our day and age to do such within the family is truly a sign of faith and love and holiness – and this true faith is attacked relentlessly by our own sinful desires, the world, and the devil.
I want to close with an example of the obvious pain and frustration that arises from going against God’s created design through the distortion of the God-given roles of men and women within the family order. The following is a post that a Christian lady made when she first went back to working full-time after having her first child:
A couple of weeks ago, a well-meaning friend at church asked, “Do you have to go back to work, or are you able to stay home?” And in that moment, my immediate response was the truth, “I GET to go back to work.” I don’t take that for granted. I’m grateful that I have a husband who supports my drive and passion to work outside of the home. I’m grateful that we believe we have found the best solution for childcare for our family. It’s not that I HAVE to go back to work, but that I GET to go back to work. To do something that I care about. Something that I believe will make me a better mother.
Of course it’s bittersweet. I’ve spent the past 11 weeks caring for my son day in and day out. And I believe that no one will be able to do that like I do. But here’s the thing: Matt and I are still raising our son. It doesn’t matter who takes care of him during the day – WE are his parents. And I have to trust that he will always know his mother’s love and I trust that God has a plan.
I also believe that my son will see me doing this, and will know: that women can do this – women are intelligent and are leaders in the workforce. Maybe someday, he’ll be an even better colleague and employee himself because he saw my example and what I am capable of. That’s my hope.
In the meantime, can I have it all? Can I be a Godly woman, a wife, a mother, and a boss? Time will tell. Look at Ps. 37:4. It does NOT mean that God gives me everything I want. I’m praying that I earnestly seek His will in this – and that if I truly am, He will make sure that everything else falls into place.
There are many points of concern in her post. First, she says it doesn’t matter who is raising her son. I’m sure that’s not how the nanny feels about her position and value – just anyone can do my job? For real? Second, she is leaving her 11-week old son in the hands of another woman, to not see her child for long periods of the day. This cannot be good for her son in his most formative years. Third, he does not see all that his mom is doing for him. He just knows that she drops him off and picks him up, when he should be with her. He does not know what she is capable of, but he does know what she is not capable of, and that is taking care of him during the day when he still has no words to speak, when he still is completely defenseless. Finally, she acknowledges that she isn’t sure that she can have it all? She isn’t sure that she can fulfill all the roles she has taken upon herself, and in her case this is purely by her choice; it’s what she wants and it is what she GETS to do. If she can’t have it all, which of these roles will she drop? If she doesn’t drop one of them, which of the roles will suffer? Which of the roles are already suffering? All of them?
The following is her most recent post, less than nine months from the one I just shared, accompanying a picture of her holding her infant son tight against her chest while he is sleeping:
I wish it was this way all the time. Working motherhood is getting the best of me. “He likes the nanny more.” “I only get 3 waking hours a day with him.” …and on…and on. He’s a daddy’s boy right now, and my heart aches. I want to work. I love working. I also love my sweet baby boy and miss him constantly.
 “More Mothers of Young Children in U.S. Workforce” https://www.prb.org/us-working-mothers-with-children/
 “Fact Sheet: Child Care” https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2012/08/16/11978/fact-sheet-child-care/
 “The History of Womanhood that Feminists Do Not Want You to Know” by the Botkin Sisters https://botkinsisters.com/article/the-truth-about-women-that-feminists-dont-want-you-to-know?fbclid=IwAR3dsoO3-swCB0vt5n7UmFtLL_kgHUJtY3guB5_BHFOZGZS9UnK_EH88atw
 The system of provision that they list from Scripture includes: “the gleaning system, the kinsman redeemer system, the family provision system, the poor-tithe system, the handmaid system, and more. Biblical Law presupposed that there will be sin and irresponsibility in every society, and that the true victims must be protected.”
 “The History of Womanhood that Feminists Do Not Want You to Know” by the Botkin Sisters
 I know I just assumed the gender of a daycare worker, and I’ll also assume that in most situations she will be watching more than one infant.
 But now that men can be women and women can be men in woke culture, women do have penises and can impregnate other women, and men do have menstrual cycles. But this leftist progressive absurdity is the telos of the eradication of the distinction between the sexes to the embrace of the sameness of men and women view of the equality of the sexes.
 Two traditionally married couples – husband and wife, man and woman.
 Some of this is assumed into the narrative, but it is likely what Paul is alluding to when writing to Timothy, directly stating that Adam was first formed, then Eve, as the reason for why men should teach in the church and not have authority held over their heads by women. Also Paul directly points to the role given to women in this passage as being the role that women should stick to within the family and within the church as the continue in the faith and love and holiness.
This is part 2 of 2 of a book review of The American Mind Meets The mind Of Christ, which is a collection of articles written by Concordia Seminary professors edited by Robert Kolb. In this section of the review, I’ll share my thoughts on what was taught in this book in terms of what I will teach, not teach, and do and not do in my future pastoral ministry as a result of having read The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ.
Show that Christianity Works
First, I thought the Paul W. Robinson article that addressed pluralism and the mix-and-match religious adherents of our day had a few good points that I thought would demand a place in my future role as a pastor. Robinson said, “In a mix-and-match religion meaning is created by an individual’s choice and value is determined by how well a truth claim ‘works’” (Kolb, p. 74). This statement triggered a memory I had of a point mentioned by Philip Goldberg in his book, American Veda, in which he said that religion serves five basic functions:
- Transmission: to impart to each generation meaningful customs, rituals, stories, and historical continuity
- Translation: to help people interpret life events, acquire meaning and purpose, and affirm their connection to a larger whole
- Transaction: to create and sustain healthy communities and provide guidelines for moral behavior and ethical relationships
- Transformation: to foster maturation, ongoing growth, and the development of more fulfilled and more complete persons
- Transcendence: to satisfy the yearning to enlarge the perceived boundaries of the self, touch the infinite, and unite with the ultimate Ground of Being (Goldberg, p. 14)
Goldberg thinks that “organized religions in the West have emphasized the first three functions and paid far less attention to the last two” (Goldberg, p. 14). It is here in the neglect of the last two functions of religion that Goldberg thinks Hinduism has found its root in American culture. Essentially, New Age, mix-and-match religious adherents are practicing Hindus, just in a purely American way and it is here that Goldberg, a practicing Hindu himself, and Robinson agree – the mix-and-match religious adherent wants his religious truth claims to work – at least that’s how I interpret Goldberg’s definitions of transformation and transcendence.
I don’t have the time in this book review to take up in full detail how Christianity may or may not find itself functioning with Goldberg’s five points, but never the less, I think showing how the truth claims of Christianity will work in the here and now could be the ticket to ministering to New Age adherents, or to those of other Eastern spiritualties. I’ve encountered again and again Americans who have converted to Buddhism or who have picked elements of Buddhism to follow because they have found that those practices work for them in their day to day lives – relieving stress and leading to more contentment and overall peace. This is one reason Meyer’s statement, “beware the extremes and go down the middle [path]” (Kolb, p. 19), stood out to me so much in the discussion of wealth. The “middle path” is the path the Buddha advocated and he found it only after having lived a path on both extremes of wealth (one being a prince and the other being an extreme ascetic). Most of these converts don’t make too much of the reincarnation claims and other religious elements of Buddhism so much, as they just really dig the benefits they experience from following the eight-fold path and Buddhist meditation.
To move my preaching and teaching into a realm that will show how Christianity will work, I think the practical points of instruction of The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ will work. Far too often, preaching in American churches focuses on the morality of what God wants us to do and not do and the transaction function taught is typically just Christ forgives your sins as the Gospel is proclaimed. But if the theme of teaching Christians to see the idols in their lives through their cultural moorings with demonstrations of how such false gods lead down a path of pain and ruin as all paths apart from God’s will for our lives eventually do, we can then foster spiritual maturity and discipleship growth as we teach the full counsel of God’s Word with the benefits of what following the middle path of our culture will look like and what the benefits in the here and now will bring to the Christian who seeks after the Lord. And to be clear, this isn’t some sort of prosperity Gospel that mingles Law and Gospel, this is a call to ditch our American idols for a closer walk with our Lord. In such a walk, it doesn’t matter if we are well fed or starving, because in Christ we can do all things through him who strengthens us – not so much when our trust is in our money and the food that we might at the moment wholly lack!
I also strongly think that teaching is more than just words but a demonstration of the teachings put into practice by the teacher… so I got to live this stuff out myself. A point that struck me in the book was a connection between Meyer’s article on wealth and Leopoldo Sanchez’ article on making room for God in our busy lives of individualism and indulgence. Meyer says we must teach our congregants the “duty of rest” as a key to helping us escape the never ending rat race for more cheese. Sanchez mentions this too and he says that far too often pastors don’t take time to rest, and that the sheep usually do what their shepherds do. So how can pastors foster time of rest with God and rest with each other so we are not just cut off lone Americans hustling for bread before sitting in front of our television altars when we aren’t working? He doesn’t really say, but he does speak of his experience growing up in Panama where the churches had daily mass and one would stop at church on the way to work for prayer and rest and to receive the body and blood of Christ. The implication is clear… do our churches provide time for rest with God and together as a body of believers in our day to day lives. Would that be valuable? I think it would be and there are many factors that can keep this from being a reality, but I do have ideas to move in this direction, such as having a prayer room that is always open and accessible, or a daily prayer time with devotions printed that people can pick up as they enter the sanctuary. I wouldn’t have to be present at all of these sacred opportunities for rest, as certain church members can lock and unlock the door on assigned days. This could be something very inviting to the community too, and it could be the perfect opportunity for the “American mystic” to sneak into the sanctuary, as David Schmitt describes this person as being drawn to the sacred spaces of Christianity but not drawn to the institutionalized community. Such a time of invitation to come in and prayer with some guided resources available as an optional worship guide could be just the type of practices of hospitality that an American mystic needs to eventually get connected with Christ. (Kolb, 78-79)
Make Christian Education Important and Relevant
As I have said, many of the articles ended with exhortations to teach the congregation the points of the particular article, namely pointing out the idolatry of that aspect of American culture and how to best drop it like a bad habit or to redeem that cultural element to the mind of Christ. I can’t recall any time that the cultural topics of this book were taught in a Lutheran church service or Sunday school class. Preaching on the pitfalls of our day to day culture that many of us daily embrace seems to be the most important topic for us to engage in regularly and often. I aim to find amble time to incorporate cultural topics and current events into my preaching and teaching as a pastor, especially on issues such as politics and government that Biermann addressed, and science and technology and even transhumanism that Okamoto addressed. We can speak on movies and what they teach and how their teachings compare to the counsel of God as Lewis did in his article on cultural cinema. Touching on such cultural topics regularly and often will also give a relevancy to my sermons as such issues are…. well, relevant.
I also think we must address obesity in the church as Lessing did. It is crucial. We are killing ourselves and limiting our range of service to God and our neighbor by not being physically well. How many Christians don’t go on “missions” trips because they simply can’t because they’re too fat. My granddad retired at 55 (he was from that generation) and he then went to work for Habit for Humanity for well over a decade every day, building homes for those in need. He still keeps a garden and gives food from it to others and he goes out of his way to help others who are elderly who aren’t as capable to do certain daily chores. He couldn’t do any of this if he was morbidly obese. Too many in our churches will die too many years too early due to wretched eating habits – a rejection of their God given bodies. Have they let Gnosticism creep into their belief system as Lessing claims? I’m not sure, but I can emphasize the totality of our human nature being both body and spirit in my teachings and stress that the full salvation of man comes at the resurrection of the dead at Christ’s return not at the earthly departure of our spirit from our body, and as to providing a practical help in this regard, my wife and I have spoken about the need to offer some healthy snack options next to the doughnuts at church.
Finally, when it comes to teaching, I take away strong agreement with Robinson’s suggestion that “instruction must be tailored to specific situations and even specific individuals” (Kolb, p. 76). This means in a Sunday school setting the people in the class dictate what is said and taught. What questions do they have? What’s going on in the community or congregation that needs to be addressed? What religion is in the news this week, or what movie is numero uno at the box office, and what questions will these bring to the class discussion? This also means that people need one on one attention and time to be taught what is most important for them to know right then and there concerning both God’s Law and Gospel in whatever matter is going on in their life. I had great success with this approach as a high school world religions and Christian apologetics teacher. Even when I taught the same lesson six times, I’d end up with vastly different experiences in each class by letting the students take control of the class through their questions and interests based on the subject I had prepared. In a setting which doesn’t demand a fixed classroom agenda, such as in a church congregation, I think I’d shine at this approach, but that is also because I’m very comfortable at speaking extemporaneously, which I think we all have to be as teachers – at least if we are going to be good teachers. Such openness to questions and even shifting planned topics if the class demands it also brings about the trust necessary to know that the teacher/pastor is open to any and all dialog which prompts plenty of great personal and sometimes unplanned Nicodemus moments that go on to have long lasting impact on the receiver and their fields of influence. (John 3)
An element of why Robinson said we need to tailor our instruction in this manner is that he has found that traditional catechesis no longer addresses the problems of modernity, in which we are up against a lot more than just evolution vs. creation debates. We now have an entire smorgasbord of worldviews that contend with our Christian faith. Knowing this, I think we need to be well aware of many religions, not just Christianity. The good news is that in some ways we don’t need to know that much about these other religions to still be seen as experts on them, because to be honest, Americans don’t know much about the world’s religions, nor even basic Biblical literacy. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a survey in 2010 to ascertain how much religious knowledge Americans possess. A random sample of 3,412 adults were contacted via phone and asked thirty-two religious questions. The average score was 50 percent, or an F! The highest-scoring group was the atheists and agnostics; they got 65 percent, or a D. Mormons outscored Christians on questions about the Bible and Christianity.
If we can just learn a decent bit of what other religions teach, it will go a long way in our witnessing abilities in our missions and ministries. I once engaged with a Hare Krishna that was handing out materials at my local Wal-Mart and inviting people to a service at his temple. Because I knew enough about Hinduism, not Hare Krishna, but Hinduism, I was able to recognize that he was likely Hare Krishna and not a Hindu without him telling me. I was able to guess much of what he believed from the connections I assumed would be present in Hare Krishna from Hinduism. And as he was describing a teaching to me, I used a technical term I knew from Hinduism that I thought expressed what he was trying to describe and his countenance completely changed and reached out to shake my hand and as I shook his hand he was smiling and saying over and over, “Brother, brother, you know, you know.” I had to explain to him that I knew the term, but that I didn’t believe it to be a true doctrine. His countenance didn’t change. He was still just so excited that I knew some things about his vastly minority religion. When he asked what I believed then, I had already gained a lot of respect and shown that I wasn’t just denying the truth of his position from a place of complete ignorance of his faith. Seriously, even though we do know the one true God and should be confident in this without knowledge of other religions, how arrogant is it to tell someone that he is wrong concerning the most important aspect of his life, his religion, when you know absolutely nothing about what he believes?
In our culture, coexistence and tolerance are valued. I seriously do believe that if we can get our church bodies to be Biblically literate and to be able to ace the Pew Research religion quiz, the church will find itself as a people who are not just aliens and strangers who are NOTW, but seen to be wise people who can be trusted on spiritual and religious matters, because they know we’ve taken the time to study them. Also, if we can shake our own idols and live with hope and joy through our American culture that offers as much for us to fear as to love, we’ll be seen as the spiritual gurus – not Phillip Goldberg and his American Vedanta! People will come to us for spiritual and religious advice and guidance even when they are not Christians. This is where I think our missions and ministries need to hone our focus on Christian education and countering the false worldviews so prevalent in our pluralistic culture, because the church is really weak in these regards.
Raising Up Defenders of the Faith
In the introduction to this book, Kolb says, “Since about 1980, and particularly since 2000, increasing numbers of Christians have experienced encounters with levels of antagonism toward the Christian faith that had previously not existed in North America.” When I read this my first thought was, “That’s why we need apologetics.” And on this point, I think The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ is greatly lacking, and this isn’t surprising to me, since in my undergrad theology studies at Concordia University Irvine there was only one course named Apologetics, and from what I know Concordia Seminary doesn’t even offer a single Apologetics course.
There were some moments in the book that I would have liked to have had more apologetic responses offered, or a mere mention of the word apologetics. For instance, when Gnosticism is mentioned as a key reason for why so many of us in our country are dying of obesity, I think it would have been nice to spend more time making a case against Gnosticism. Maybe point to how Irenaeus tackled Gnosticism, or how the early church beat Gnosticism. The heresy just recently had a resurgence due to the finding of the Gnostic Gospels in the Nag Hamddi discovery – what are in these texts that are so appealing for people today? Could the ways the church countered Gnosticism in the second to third centuries potentially be something good for us to do too?
Schmitt advocated that we should have an invitation of hospitality to the American mystic over and beyond explanation, but when the real talk comes, he said we’ll find ourselves learning from the mystic a rediscovery of “how to talk about the things of God” (Kolb, p. 91). However, “at times such conversation will be awkward and tentative, as we search for the right words so that we faithfully express the mind of Christ to the American mystic” (p. 91). That’s all he says on this point. I’d love to have heard more on what would the American mystic say that I’d find awkward, what I’d feel compelled counter – what would be necessary to counter since it opposes the mind of Christ. I think I would have wanted a few pages addressing this part of the conversation so that I will be prepared to give a defense for the truthfulness of the Christian message to whatever contradictory speech I should expect to encounter after a time of hospitality with the American mystic.
The moment where I felt as if apologetics was invoked the most was at the end of Okamoto’s article on science and technology. He rightly says that simply claiming the Bible to be the Word of God “does little work in supporting our account of the universe, our conclusions about life, and all of our teachings” (Kolb, p. 110). He rightly points us to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and the testimony of those he commissioned to be the proper way to account for the authority of the Bible. But, that’s where he ends the article. There is not mention of how one would give reason to or defend the truthfulness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that gives authority to the truthfulness of the Bible. I think a few sentences or two to describe what methodology would be used to do this would be helpful. In his article he also addressed ideas of falsifiability as defined by Karl Popper that were empirical and based on repeatable and observable testing, but he didn’t drive home that this isn’t the only way of discerning the validity of truth claims. Here I think mention of the process of court examinations and the methods used in discerning the truth of what occurred in the past would be helpful to point out that we all discern truthfulness concerning past events that we never witnessed and that we all believe things that cannot be empirically discerned, and thus there must be other acceptable methods for discerning truth besides just the scientific method. This lends itself to defending our claim that the Bible has authority to speak on the origin of the universe on account of the historical claims and work of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s also good to point out that the origins of the universe are not something that the scientific method can rightly touch anyways since such an event isn’t falsifiable by Popper’s accepted standards of falsifiability.
As a pastor, I’d certainly want to equip my parishioners to be able to answer objections that they’ll inevitably face as they share their faith in missions and ministry. I also would want to do my best to answer such questions that they have that bring them doubts or into a state of anxiety concerning the truthfulness of the mind of Christ revealed in Scripture. As such, they’ll be equipped and ready to not only share the Gospel in their vocations, but also defend it.
This blog post is the first part of a book review of The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ which was written by ten Concordia Seminary professors and edited by Robert Kolb.
Why does American Christianity need The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ?
In Southern California, NOTW bumper stickers litter the back end of vehicles as much or more than the popular Coexist sticker. It took me awhile to figure out what the NOTW sticker meant – “Not of this World – in reference to Jesus’ statement about his followers in John 17:16 in which he says, “They are not of this world, just as I am not of it.” Though Christians are members of God’s eternal kingdom and are “aliens and strangers in the world,” as Peter describes us, we are still very much in this world. In other words, the reality is that Christians who are NOTW still coexist in a culture and society with people who display the Coexist bumper sticker sold by Peacemonger, a printing company that specializes in stickers that lean towards religious syncretism and the endorsement of New Age beliefs and Eastern spirituality and are only negative against the Christian faith. It is in this state of social pluralism with a multiplicity of religious beliefs and values that the Christian daily swims, and though the conservative Christian with the NOTW sticker on his car can likely agree that we need peaceful tolerance of diverse ideas and expressions of belief in American society, he probably hasn’t drunk deeply of the other message that Coexist is often interpreted to espouse – that all religions are equally valid and true paths to God.
Even though many Christians have avoided the growing ethos of religious universalism, there are many American Christians who belong to church bodies who have not successfully held on to the exclusivity of Christ’s message to be the only way to the Father. But the NOTW sporting Christian shouldn’t grow too comfortable, thinking he’s escaped the culture war or religious unionism due to his sticker, because culture is a multi-headed beast that is the conglomeration of all the people’s diverse opinions and experiences in a society that blend together to form uniquely particular presuppositions about life and the world for the group as a whole. Since not everyone in American society is “not of this world” it means that American Christians have certainly had their worldviews formed by cultural presuppositions that are derived from the ways of this world that stand in opposition to the mind of Christ. This leads us to have to struggle to discern and know the mind of Christ revealed to us in Scripture, because we inevitably are bringing our American-tinged minds to the interpretation of God’s Word.
To help American-Christians wake-up to elements of the American way of life that stand in opposition to the message of Christ and his will for our lives and to aid us in proclaiming the goodness and truth that God has gifted to us within our culture, nine Concordia Seminary professors have taken on the task of thinking deeply on various aspects of our “American minds” to see how they align with the “mind of Christ.” The articles they have generated comprise The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ and cover the cultural landscape of health and wealth, individualism and community, religion and religiosity, science and culture, and media. With the seminary’s mission professor emeritus of systematic theology, Robert Kolb, at the helm of editing this tour de force of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the American culture that most American-Christians have taken for granted as being rather neutral or positive in our alignment to the mind of Christ, the Church in American has been given sage advice on how to best witness to the culture through the culture in mission and ministry.
Recognizing Idols, Taking the Middle Path, and Being the Spiritual Gurus that we Truly Are
Three major ministry and mission themes emerge throughout The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ. The first theme is recognizing that most aspects of American culture are idols or prone to be idols and these elements must be ditched in order to properly walk with God. This first theme leads to the second theme, which is that there is often times a middle-path within the idolatry-prone aspects of our culture in which we can tread to the glory of God, and it is on this path that we can call others to walk through our ministries and missions. The third theme follows the first two in that Christians should be the spiritual gurus in our culture! We know the truth. We know God. We of all people in our culture should be the spiritual gurus – the teachers that enlighten the path to God. It’s time to teach, teach, and teach some more the mind of Christ that we alone can know since we have the Word of God and the Spirit of Truth that knows the mind of Christ. In doing so, we’ll show people their idols and help them ditch their false gods as they hop on the middle-path centered on Christ.
As I explained in the introduction, culture is deeply ingrained within us – it’s as natural to us as water is to a fish. Because of this we are not always aware of how it forms our presuppositions on all matters of life and because our American culture is second nature to us we don’t easily recognize when we become dependent on our cultural norms for how we ought to live our lives. This is where many of the authors recognized our American idols. When we are dependent on anything but God, we have made an idol. Also, multiple articles pointed to Luther’s definition that an idol is anything that we fear, love, or trust above God and our culture provides much to fear and love and trust that entices us into idolatry.
For instance, Dale Meyer suggested that our American consumerism can become an idol as we are prone to find our satisfaction and joy in our possessions, created things instead of our Creator. (Kolb, p. 19) R. Reed Lessing reminds us that many Americans have placed trust in medicine over and above God as they pursue to perfect their bodies for their own glory instead of God’s. (Kolb, p. 33) Joel Biermann teaches that the American concept of individual and personal rights is a cultural construct that is not shared by all cultures. Our demand for personal rights drives us inward to our centers which Biermann says, “invariably ends with the individual self-enthroned and both God and the neighbor deposed” (Kolb, p. 46) There were numerous other examples of idolatry embedded within American culture, but I’ll close with one more. Joel Okamoto demonstrates how science and technology are both sources of great hope (in that they better our lives to the point that we couldn’t fathom living without them) and fear (in that sometimes they give us devices like the A-bomb or the possibility of losing our humanity through transhumanism – which is something that some hope in instead of fear). And as sources of great hope and fear, science and technology thus become idols by Luther’s definition of what a god is.
Once we recognize what the idols and potential areas of idolatry are for us within American culture, we must relinquish our hold on these idols and the solution the authors of the book gave again and again was to “beware the extremes and go down the middle [path]” (p. 19) An example of the middle path route to an aspect of our culture came in Lessing’s article on bodily health. Too often we either reject the body (obesity is the second leading cause of death in America) or we strive to perfect it (as I mentioned above). Both of these our extreme sides of American health that pull us away from God’s design for our bodies that the middle path approach of “respecting the body” can avoid. This respect is grounded in realizing that we are persons comprised of both a body and a soul. The one who rejects the body, typically does so by valuing the spiritual aspect of humanity over the physical (Lessing says this is an on-going influence from Gnosticism), and the one who strives to perfect the body essentially is pursuing a godhood grounded in his own physicality. Respecting the body leads one to see that God has made our great bodies for us and that “our goal is to be available for Jesus Christ for the longest amount of time, with the greatest amount of energy, and the highest degree of emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being” (Kolb, p. 39). This availability is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God as we serve him and our neighbors through ministry and missions.
Another middle path approach to culture came through David Lewis’ approach to watching American movies, though Lewis didn’t directly speak this middle-path; he demonstrated it. Far too often Americans dive into movies head first for entertainment, not considering that movies convey messages and can form us as we partake in the viewing of the American culture embedded within the films. Some Christians however do see this influence of movie consumption and to avoid being moved to sin avoid much of popular American culture. This approach pulls them away from having the opportunity to be able to speak “sometimes with, and sometimes against, the values of the surrounding culture in this American context in which we are called to confess and live out our Christian faith” (Kolb, p. 140). Lewis demonstrated how this speaking can be done through an in-depth analysis of the architypes of American movies in relationship to the architype of the mind of Christ and showed how embedded in two of the great classics of American cinema is the message that the ideal pattern of living is that of Christ’s – to deny one’s personal desires and wellbeing and to consider others before yourself. This also happened to be the suggested path in Biermann’s article on individual rights – it’s best for us to approach life as if we have no rights since we are to put others’ rights before our own.
The third major theme that emerged through the book was an answer for what Christians should do with the two previous themes, in particular what pastors and future pastors should do with these themes since this book was written by seminary professors with that audience primarily in mind, and that is to teach the counsel of God on all of these cultural matters. Essentially, it is the pastor’s job to help the congregation recognize the idols in their lives that they likely are unaware are false gods for them. It is the pastor’s job to correct cultural lies and norms that are in opposition to the will of God for the lives of his congregants. Finally, the fruit of such teaching is for our relationship with the Lord to be strong and vibrant. He alone is our all-sufficient savior and any cultural idols that pull us away from him could lead us to reject our faith in God as it is a real potential that our love and fear and trust in such idols could grow to the point that we decide to squeeze the true God out of our lives entirely – to our eternal damnation. As Christians learn the middle path approach to culture in which we avoid the idolatrous ditches of the extremes of our culture, we will know how to not just emphasize the NOTW aspect of our identity in Christ, but we’ll also know how to better witness and serve our pagan neighbors as we are in the world and in the culture in missions and ministry to them. I think in this way we’ll become the spiritual gurus of our culture – because if we can shirk our idols and walk the path God has intended for us in this world, we’ll shine like stars in this crooked and depraved world (and culture) and some people will be drawn to us for the knowledge of God that we readily teach and proclaim.
Church denominations vary wildly in many aspects, such as doctrinal teaching, polity, roles of the pastor, roles of the laity, and the order and purpose of church services. This statement stands as being obviously true to the vast majority of Christian believers, even to those who haven’t had the personal experience of visiting many denominations. But what might stand as more of a shock to one’s system is realizing that even within a denomination that confessionally, or even on paper, contractually, holds all of these aspects in unity among its congregations, the culture present in each local body of believers can differ significantly to the point a worshipper might feel like a foreigner even in his own denomination. This cultural difference isn’t in reference to expected differences that could arise from geographical variants, such as between Wisconsin Lutherans and Californian Lutherans. This cultural shift lies within the church body itself and the change arises from the size of the church body’s Sunday average worship attendance (AWA). Recognizing this cultural distinction is important for each congregation to be the best that it can be.
In Gary L. McIntosh’s book, One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Bringing Out the Best in Any Size Church, he makes three cultural categories for churches based on the size of their AWA: small (15-200 AWA), medium (201-400 AWA), and large (401+ AWA). From McIntosh, I learned that small churches have a relational orientation (everyone knows everyone and the pastor has personal a relationship with everyone), medium churches have a programmatical orientation (people mostly know others who are in the same program, group, or class and the pastor works more closely with the leaders of those groups and doesn’t know everyone in the church while still knowing a decent percentage of the congregation personally), and large churches have an organizational orientation (primarily the orientation comes through the senior pastor and the board’s vision and the pastor rarely interacts personally with people who are not part of the paid staff or under his specific ministry branch if he’s not the senior pastor). In a class presentation by Dr. Peter on this information, I also learned about Arkub Riytgayge’s division of the cultural size differences which contains four groups: family size (1-50 AWA), pastoral size (51-150 AWA), program size (150-350 AWA), and corporate size (350-500+ AWA). The differentiation between these sizes were very similar to McIntosh’s model, except here, the size divisions also created two additional divisions, that between the homogeneous congregation and heterogeneous congregation and between the group-centered church and the pastor-centered church, as demonstrated in the table below:
(Pastor knows everyone so it is homogenous)
From McIntosh’s book, I learned that if a pastor tries to lead his congregation outside the bounds of his congregation’s size-culture, he will frustrate his congregation and himself. The example in One Size Fits All was that of a pastor of a small (family) church who was leading as if he was a pastor of a large (corporate) church. He was making all the decisions and creating new programs that were flopping. He was vision casting and dreaming numerical growth strategies five to ten years into the future to people that only cared about the present state of the family (the church body). He was doing all of this on his own initiative. This could be fine if he was the senior pastor at a large congregation, but he wasn’t, and since he was at a small church, he really was doing all of this on his own. Even in the large church, the senior pastor doesn’t do all the functional, nuts and bolts work, since he has a team of leaders that he directs and holds accountable, while they manage and work out their assigned ministry tasks with their teams. For his setting, the pastor learned that he needed to be more relational, meeting with the members one on one, face to face, throughout the week, while saddling up next to the members who have primary influential sway within the congregation to get their approval for any new initiatives he’d like to implement before launching away with his plans. As a lay member of congregations, I also learned that my previous experience being a part of a small church soured my understanding and expectations of the last congregations I’ve been a member. They were medium sized churches that ran programmatically, and I wasn’t entrenched in any of the programs, while wanting to know everyone and have relationship with everyone like I did in the small congregation. The result was that I hardly knew anyone and I felt as if the churches were failing to meet their most basic role in my life.
From that last point, I have had in mind more of a pastor-centered, pastoral congregation size setting for how I would lead as a pastor. I have had plans in mind to be a pastor (shepherd) that goes to my sheep. I’d want to meet with every man in the congregation one on one at least once a year, by meeting them for breakfast before their work day starts or going to their job site, meeting them at lunch breaks, for prayer, counsel, and basic relational bonding, as well as for encouraging and equipping them in using their gifts and talents in the congregation and in their day to day interactions. My wife and I have discussed having a family over for dinner once a week or every other week for the same purposes, so that I could I get to know and minister to the women and children in the congregation too while protecting my marriage (following the Mike Pence rule!). Now, from what I have learned about congregational size dynamics, I know that this approach to leadership will likely work wonders in a small church setting and help me build much trust and authority and influence to lead the church, but such work won’t be so helpful in a medium or large church.
In a medium sized church, I’d have to adjust this relational leadership plan to be focused on meeting with the leaders of all the congregation’s programs and boards: Sunday School Director and teachers, praise band leader, elders, mission team leaders, small group leaders, and other key members. McIntosh also mentioned that medium sized churches expect strong teaching and well-prepared sermons from their pastors, which is an element that I find appealing and I think I can excel at from my previous experience and evaluation feedback from being a teacher for the past twelve years. It is through solid Sunday presentations that those in the congregation I don’t know will be connected to me, and based on the culture of the medium sized church, they’re fine with not personally knowing me as long as I deliver the goods on Sunday morning with excellence. This means that in the medium-sized congregation, devoting more time to sermon and teaching preparation will be understood by the congregation, as long as I am generating quality material to justify that time allocation for those purposes. Being a pastor at a medium-sized church might be up my alley, since I could still have much of the relational ministry element I desire, as well as the freedom to emphasize teaching in my pastoral ministry.
In a large sized church, I’d have to adjust my relational leadership by reducing my focus to the other pastors under my care if I’m the senior pastor, as well as the plethora of other staff, and of course the board of directors. I’d also have to find the most influential members in the congregation and work and meet with them almost exclusively from out of all the members in the church. Again, this is the culture of a large, corporate church setting, so this would be expected by the bulk of the congregation’s members, and it is what would be necessary for the church to thrive. In many respects, this could be a very fulfilling position for me, since the relationships will be fewer and almost exclusively focused on the mission, vision, and work of the congregation – something that does fit well my political style of leadership.
In closing, after discovering the different culture dynamics that accompany the size of each congregation, and the necessity for the pastoral leadership methods to shift based on these dynamics, I’ve discovered that my one on one relational approach to ministry has a place in all sized congregations, but that the focus of who I should be relating with personally and ministerially will have to change depending on the size of the congregation.