Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Danger of Success

It's been an incredible six months for me as a writer.
  • Bearing God's Name is on its 5th printing in under 6 months. (And while the average print size is only 1000 copies, the need for multiple printings clearly indicates that it has repeatedly exceeded the publisher's expectations.) 
  • It's received rave reviews and generated a spate of podcast interviews. 
  • This week InterVarsity Press offered me a second book contract. 
  • I've been invited to write for Cambridge University Press as well as Bloomsbury.
  • Two other essays and two book projects are in various stages of preparation for printing. 
Most importantly, I hear from grateful readers almost every day. It's been fun and really gratifying to see people respond so positively to my work. I'll be honest -- sales stats and accolades can be intoxicating! How do I stay grounded?

A couple of months ago I listened to an episode of the Disrupters podcast in which Esau McCaulley interviewed his doctoral advisor, N. T. Wright. One moment in their conversation grabbed my attention. Wright was speaking of a semester he spent in Jerusalem on Sabbatical in which he was working on his massive book Jesus and the Victory of God. He explains, "I was trying to write the introduction to the Jesus book . . . and I remember one day as I was saying my prayers, kneeling down at the prayer desk in my little room in Jerusalem and prayed 'Oh, dear Lord, am I really supposed to be doing one volume of introduction, and then a book about Jesus, and another volume about Paul?'" Although he does not regularly hear the audible voice of God, Wright received an unmistakable reply: "Well, yes, except it won't just be three."

I love this. Academics so rarely talk about the spiritual side of their work. I treasure this window into Tom Wright's prayer life as it relates to his writing. I have always seen writing as an act of worship, alongside teaching and mentoring and leading. On the front end, prayer fuels my brainstorming, proposing, and beginning. As I write, I pray all the more -- for clarity, insight, and clear communication. As the work is published, I pray that others will find benefit in it. When God answers these prayers and I begin to see fruit from it -- that is, when the work meets success -- it is essential that I continue to see it as an act of worship.

This weekend I re-read a classic: C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. It's helping me recalibrate my heart in the midst of these heady days. Lewis' warning comes by way of an imaginative story in which people from hell visit heaven and decide whether or not they want to stay. Many of the characters in his story are so committed to their illusions of a meaningful life that they literally choose to go back to hell rather than give them up to live in heaven.

Some refuse heaven because it would mean forgiving people who hurt them. Others are so preoccupied with themselves that they cannot imagine a world that does not revolve around them. One man is utterly horrified to learn that in the few years since his death his artistic genius has been wholly forgotten. He sets out to return to hell straightaway so that he can drum up more interest in his work.

How could someone who produced such great works of art or music or literature on earth be so sadly uninterested in heaven? I found the mentor's words a sober warning:
Ink and catgut and paint . . . are dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about him. For it doesn't stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower--become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations. - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 81
Contrasting this, in Lewis' vision of heaven, people are utterly uninterested in themselves and instead deeply interested in others. They are so captivated by knowing Christ that they have let go of every accolade and ambition of their own.

The mentor tells of a fountain higher in the hills which "when you have drunk of it you forget forever all proprietorship in your own works. You enjoy them just as if they were someone else's: without pride and without modesty" (82). No one is distinguished. "The glory flows into everyone."

This thought gripped me. I was compelled to write Bearing God's Name because I believed with all my heart that the church at large needed to rediscover the value of the Old Testament and meet the God of Grace in its pages. But the success of this book presents the very real danger that I'd begin to enjoy the writing more than the reality to which it points, becoming fixated on sales and reviews and accolades to the extent that I lose sight of the message. If my "ownership" of this book will be lost in the the new creation, can I begin even now to let go of it? Can I view it without pride or modesty, but just as if it belongs to someone else? I must at least try.

The alternative is terrifying.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

This Life We Share: Author Interview with Maggie Wallem Rowe

Maggie Wallem Rowe, author of
This Life We Share (NavPress)
Maggie Wallem Rowe is an extraordinary woman whose writing talent has long impressed me. Maggie's zest for life and her fierce commitment to the church are an inspiration. She has spent years in Christian publishing advocating for other writers. And her knack for cheering others on spills over into every friendship. Maggie has been one of my biggest cheerleaders and dearest friends for the whole 8 years I've known her. I am absolutely delighted that her first book is due out in just over a week!

Here's my official endorsement, which you'll find inside the cover:
"Maggie has spent decades following Jesus--as a pastor's wife, coworker, mother, daughter, and friend. Now she puts pen to page to share the wisdom she's learned along the way. Maggie has a gift for seeing the world and finding meaning in ordinary days, capturing it in delightful prose. She also has the gift of insight, the ability to harness her own self-awareness for the good of others. In this book, you'll find more than good advice; I expect you'll find a new friend."
But don't just take my word for it, This Life We Share carries endorsements by Beth Moore, Sandra McCracken, Hugh Hewitt, Carol Kent, Sandra Richter, Gail MacDonald, and Lucinda Secrest McDowell, among others. In short, a whole generation of successful writers has recognized Maggie's keen insight and skill with words, and they have lined up to tell the world all about her first book!

Sadly, my own copy of Maggie's book is held up in postal quarantine in a warehouse somewhere, awaiting clearance for international shipping. While I eagerly await its arrived, I asked Maggie if she would do us the honor of a blog interview. Here's the story behind This Life We Share:

For those who don't know you, please tell us a bit about yourself. Where have you lived and what roles have you played in these places?
I grew up on a farm in rural Illinois and met my husband at Wheaton College. We moved east for seminary and then pastored two churches in New England over a 25-year period. During those years I acted in summer stock productions and community theatre, taught speech and business writing on the college level, and directed women’s ministries for a large regional faith-based organization. We were also very active in our communities and with raising five children - three who were born to us and two more “bonus kids” who joined us through foster care and spent their teenage years with us.  When most of the kids were grown and in college, we accepted a pastorate in the Chicago area and retired from that position 16 years later. While back in Illinois I worked part-time for Wheaton College and then full-time for a Christian publishing house in Public Relations. Nearly two years ago, we relocated to the mountains of western North Carolina where I’ve been writing full-time.  I can’t remember ever being bored!
When I wrote Bearing God's Name, I had in mind a retired high school shop teacher from our church in Oregon named Earl who admitted to me that he had only ever read one book cover to cover (a welding manual, if you must know). I thought if I could help someone like Earl engage with the Old Testament while keeping his attention to the end, it would be a success. Were you picturing someone in particular as you wrote this book?
Great question, Carmen. When I was asked to submit a proposal for the book that eventually became This Life We Share, the publisher specified that he was seeking a Christian living title with devotional elements that would cover “a big waterfront.” It needed to be relevant to young women in college or early in a career as well as older women in assisted living and everyone in between! It was a tall order, but with God's help I hope we’ve succeeded.
You have! You have such a knack for communicating with women of any generation. Your book is a series of 52 devotionals, designed to be read one at a time. Is there a golden thread that runs through the book--one big idea that you want your readers to grasp?
This Life We Share is organized into four major sections: The Inner Journey, The Intentional Journey, The Relational Journey, and The God of Your Journey. While it has 52 reflections with devotional elements (scripture and points of connection for discussion), it’s actually not a conventional devotional but rather a series of essays on several dozen different topics, including those as disparate as infertility, immigration, and the imposter syndrome! My prayer is that women of faith or those who are seeking will find empathy and encouragement as well as the assurance that they are not alone on our shared journey.
What has been the most joyful part of writing this book?
I have loved writing since I was a child, but honestly I never thought anyone would pay me to publish the type of candid, confessional essays I write! Speaking and teaching is a sweet spot for me, but you can only reach so many people live and in person. To have a publisher create this beautiful gift book in hardcover has been a tremendous affirmation that I never expected.
What a blessing! One thing I admire about you is the way you've pursued your dreams and your calling at an age when some are slowing down and pulling out their knitting needles. I watched you get your MA in Biblical Studies at almost 60 and now you're publishing your first book at 65. What would you say to readers who have hung onto their dreams for decades?
Don’t pay attention to your chronological age! Honestly, I have known women who were “old” at 30 when they stopped asking questions and seeking to learn from new experiences. I have always admired women in the later seasons of life who were game for trying new things.  And what a joy to connect with a publisher who believes that older women have wisdom to share!
Maggie, you had over a decade of experience as a book publicist before you wrote your first book, so you know how this industry works. How is the CoronaVirus pandemic disrupting the normal process of your book release?
Thankfully the book was printed and bound here in the US, so it is releasing on time May 5. As with every other book published this spring, however, all physical events have been postponed. I was so looking forward to launch events here in North Carolina, back in the Chicago area and also in New England. I’ll have to wait longer for those. The pandemic has also affected book delivery as major suppliers like Amazon have prioritized shipments of household goods over new titles. Thankfully my publisher, NavPress, has an alliance with Tyndale House, the world’s largest independent faith-based publisher. The warehouse is operational and the publisher has been able to offer direct fulfillment, meaning readers who order online are actually receiving their copies early!
That is good news! How can appreciative readers help your book reach more people? What are some practical things we can do that make a difference?
I’d be grateful if readers would share your blogpost with this interview and the buy link, Carmen! They can order from Amazon here or directly from the publisher here. Book proceeds go to further the worldwide ministry of The Navigators. I also welcome visits to my online home at where I share “Views From the Ridge” every week on my blog.
Perhaps readers are still looking for a Mother's Day Gift. Even if you can't see your mother due to the pandemic, you can send her your love in the form of this beautiful book! 

Maggie, do you have hopes of writing another book? If so, do you have an idea of what it will be about?
Well, I’ll share a bit of a secret. I actually submitted a new book proposal just today! A publisher reached out to me recently with a specific idea after reading one of my especially quirky blogposts. We’ll see where it leads. (You heard it here first, folks!) 
Hurrah! So delighted to hear this. Thanks, Maggie, for taking the time to tell us about your book!
Thank you for this opportunity, Carmen!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Death of Easter: A Holy Week Reflection

I write this on Maundy Thursday, as the ominous events of Good Friday begin to cast their long shadow over the controversial figure of Jesus of Nazareth, and as a global pandemic casts its long shadow over our celebration of Holy Week.

Jesus' mind was made up. He had "set his face to Jerusalem," all the while knowing what awaited him there. Neither the Romans nor the Jewish leaders had room in their power structures for his rule. Each one depended entirely on the status quo -- that delicate political balance that would line their pockets and ensure their children's futures. For Jesus to bear his message to the capital city would require either their capitulation or his death. He knew this. He knew the explosive potential of his own ministry. To keep the peace, to maintain control, they must stamp out alternative visions of reality. People's hearts were too easily swayed by hope. Jesus stirred a dangerous ferment of ideas by speaking of the kingdom of God, and by hinting that the kingdom had come. The discontent of the masses was fanned into flame by his presence. They thought only in terms of military overthrow. And how could they think otherwise? Worldly power structures were all they had ever known.

Still, he went. This fateful act was the reason for his coming. Ironically, the way to win would be to lose. Jesus' demonstration of self-giving love was the most powerful articulation possible of his vision for a new kind of kingdom. It seemed contrary to reason. It was contrary to reason, under the world's system. But Jesus knew something they didn't know. There was another path to victory. A path through death itself.
Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24 NIV)
In these unprecedented times, as the world's leaders seek to contain the spread of the CoronaVirus, the church is not allowed to gather. No Holy Week services? It would seem a defeat for the church to cancel the high point of the Christian year. Sure, we can view sermons online and sing in our living rooms. But it is not the same. We are missing the most joy-filled celebration of our faith, the essence of the Christian message. We are witnessing the untimely death of Easter. But if we've learned anything from the story of Good Friday, we should know that apparent defeats can be something else entirely. The path to victory passes through death itself.

The power of the gospel does not depend on large crowds or full-throated singing or Easter lilies or new dresses. All we need for Easter is an empty tomb. Perhaps this year, more than any other year, we will rediscover this. In the isolation of our own homes, we bury this seed. Wearily, we await the passing of the pandemic's fury. But we do so in hope, because we have an advantage. We know something Jesus' first followers didn't know. We know resurrection. We can already anticipate the joy of long-awaited handshakes and hugs. We scarcely knew how important these were until we were deprived of them. This death of community will be reborn in a deeper embrace.

More importantly, we know that Jesus' resurrection is only the beginning of what God has planned for all of creation. This broken and dying world will be brought to life. Sickness and sorrow will be reversed. Sin defeated. Death conquered. And all things made new. This is our confident hope.

Let us not mistake numbers with power. The Christian movement started under the radar with small groups of shaken believers, gathered in homes shuttered against the fury of Rome. Jesus appeared to them bodily, behind closed doors, and banished their doubts. He can do the same today. His presence and power are limitless.

May the temporary death of our Easter spring forth into a harvest of faith-filled community.

Imagine how those who don't normally attend church will watch online from the safety of their living rooms.

Imagine how the gospel is infusing our homes as we gather to pray and sing and read Scripture within these walls.

May the temporary death of our Easter remind us of our true hope--that God is making all things new.

What if the profound brokenness that characterizes our world fueled our desire for the kingdom of God to come in all its glory?

What if we grasped more deeply the ultimate reason for our joy--not that all is well, but that all will be well.

May the temporary death of our Easter be the beginning of something even better.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Being the Church during the COVID-19 Pandemic

You know that scene in "The Sound of Music" where the Von Trapp family sings their farewell at the Salzburg Music Festival? Everyone is emotional at the thought of how WWII is changing everything. People are leaving who should not have to leave. Everyone is uneasy.

Chapel this morning felt like that.

No, we had no armed guards at the exits, but one student after another stopped at the hand sanitizer station and entered the room lathering their hands. Greetings were awkward as we all tried to be friendly without shaking hands or hugging. Our main speaker was piped in on video, rather than risking exposure, since he'd been traveling in affected areas. All these are silent reminders of how in one week, we have all become much more aware. Aware of germs. Aware of the real possibility that meeting together is a luxury we may have to relinquish.

We're in the middle of our Global Connections Conference (GCC) at Prairie College. Our theme this year is NOW. HERE. THIS.

It's hard to imagine a more pressing world concern at this moment than COVID-19. Friends of mine at institutions across the United States are scrambling to move classes online while grieving the loss of embodied community for the rest of the semester. Conferences, classes, services, athletic competitions, concerts, lectures, class trips -- all cancelled for friends south of the border. And while Canadians are good about taking everything in stride and no one in our community is freaking out, there is a growing sense that even out here on the prairies we, too, will be affected. Soon. As I write this, our contingency team is meeting.

Singer/Songwriter Steve Bell at Prairie College's Global Connections Conference 2020

Our morning speaker was singer/songwriter Steve Bell. His stories were balm to anxious souls. His vulnerability made space for our own grief. And he closed with a song based on the words of Teresa of Avila, "Christ has no body here but ours."

Steve told the baffling story of the rapid spread of Christianity in 150 CE. This backwater sect following a crucified leader should not have captured the hearts of the Roman empire, but it did. Why? A plague. Citing the work of sociologist and historian Rodney Stark, Bell told us how early Christians embraced the news that "God so loved the world," and that this news should have sounded ridiculous. In the Roman world, "gods don't love, they are users," he said. In that day, worship was the equivalent of someone in a cage with a hungry lion desperately saying, "Nice kitty!" People didn't worship their gods out of love or in response to love, but in order to placate them. In contrast, Christians really believed that God loves people. And they knew that love is our way to God because God is love (he picked up this sentence from a sermon by David Witticum, who got it from Augustine).

So, in the face of the plague, when everyone else fled, Christians stayed. They knew they must love what God loves. They loved radically, at risk to their own lives. Steve's closing words to us felt like the farewell of the Von Trapp family. There was a palpable sense that today could be our last meeting as a community for quite some time--that everything was about to change. (Note: I have no official word on this. It just seems inevitable, given how many other schools have closed their doors.)

The risk of death appears to be much lower with the Coronavirus than it was with the plague of 150 CE. Still, the risk is real for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. We will know people who die from this. Current estimates hover around a 4-5% death rate. How can we love well in this strange new world?

We may not personally feel at risk, but there are people in our circles who are. Taking precautions protects them, too. It's not a matter of fear, but of love. If you don't like people telling you what you CAN'T do, here's a list of what we CAN do:
  • We can wash our hands more thoroughly and more often. 
  • We can minimize human-to-human contact.
  • We can regularly disinfect door handles, light switches, and hard surfaces, even if it's not in our job description.
  • We can cancel or postpone unnecessary meetings.
  • We can think creatively about how to be the church even when we can't meet in person.
  • We can think creatively about how to teach online.
  • We can refrain from stockpiling resources that everyone needs, such as toilet paper.
  • We can offer to pick up groceries for friends who aren't safe to go out.
  • We can offer to pray over the phone with those feeling anxious.
  • We can text and email to check on people we would normally encourage in person.
  • We can curtail all unnecessary travel and take a hard look at what seems necessary.
  • We can pray for stamina for health care workers and let them have the masks.
  • We can pray for wisdom for civic and community leaders who are making difficult decisions.
  • Above all, we can STAY HOME if we have a fever or cough.
A pastor friend posted on Facebook that all meetings of more than 250 people in the state of Washington were strictly prohibited, including churches, for the time being (Oregon made a similar announcement today, and so did Alberta, just a few moments ago). Someone responded angrily, implying that this is a breech of first amendment rights--the right to congregate. He seemed to feel this was a form of persecution. Please hear me: This is not religious persecution and it's not unbridled fear. Quarantine is a form of love. Experts are telling us this is the best way to stop the spread and protect the vulnerable in our communities, and that we need to act fast to have the highest success rate. So for the love of God and the love of your neighbor, stay home. 

Maybe COVID-19 will re-teach us what we have forgotten--that we are made for embodied community. As wonderful as social media is, it can never replace a handshake or a hug. And as inspiring as online sermons can be, they cannot replicate the taste of bread and wine or deep-throated song in community. This quarantine won't last forever. Hopefully it will be just long enough to help us more deeply appreciate that we were made for each other and that we can't be fully ourselves in isolation. See you on the other side!

Monday, February 17, 2020

FAQ about 'Bearing God's Name' (IVP)

For the past four months, since before Bearing God's Name was even released, I've spent a good deal of energy traveling to speak about the book and interviewing for blogs and podcasts. Now that many hundreds of copies of Bearing God's Name are in circulation, thoughtful readers from around the world have written to tell me how much the book has meant to them. (I love hearing from readers!) Some of them have also asked me questions. Maybe you've wondered these things, too:

1. Which Bible translation are you reading that says "You shall not bear the name of Yahweh your God in vain"? I've checked all over the place and I can't find that one.
I'm using my own translation from the Hebrew "original" (we don't have the very first Hebrew texts, but I'm translating from the standard Hebrew text used today, which is the product of very careful scholarly reconstruction). English translators have apparently been befuddled by Exodus 20:7 in Hebrew and concluded that it is figurative or shorthand for something related to speech. But there are no speech-related verbs or other clues in the verse that would make it about speaking God's name. And nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible is the verb "bear" used to mean speech without explicit clues in the immediate context. Instead, the verse appears in close proximity to a passage where the high priest is physically bearing or carrying names (Exodus 28:29). 
2. If all believers wear an invisible tattoo of God's name, what does that mean for actual tattoos? Are they okay for Christians or not?
In the Torah, tattoos and other permanent body markings are prohibited (Lev 19:28 and Deut 14:1-2). In that ancient context, markings like this apparently showed allegiance to the dead or to other deities. In my view, Yahweh was asking his people not to send mixed messages about their allegiance. While tattoos today do not usually carry the same connotations as in ancient times, I think the same principle can be applied. If you're considering a tattoo, ask yourself whether it competes with your claim to belong fully to God. Does it send mixed messages? 
3. Is bearing God's name similar to being made in the image of God? Is Genesis 1 really talking about the same concept?
There are similarities between these concepts, but they are not the same thing. Every human being is the image of God, but only members of the covenant community bear God's name. I talk about this briefly in Bearing God's Name, but I'm hoping to write a prequel that explores more fully what it means to be God's image.
4. How do you know that 1 Peter was written to a Gentile audience? If you're wrong about that, does the whole thing fall apart?
Not everyone agrees that Peter was writing primarily to Gentiles, but all scholars agree that he was writing to followers of Jesus. Peter clearly saw Jesus-followers as covenant members, no matter their ethnicity. Acts 10, 11, and 15 bear clear witness to Peter's theology -- he no longer sees a distinction between Jews and Gentiles. The early church leaders made a clear call that Gentiles who follow Jesus "bear God's name" (see Acts 15:14). So my argument does not rely solely on the audience of 1 Peter. There are other persuasive ways to make the case.
5. In this book do you talk about all the names of God?
No. Strictly speaking, God only has one name -- Yahweh. The rest are titles that describe aspects of his character or role. The focus of my book is on how God claims people as his own by placing his unique, personal name on them.
6. What did you mean on page 66 when you said that God repented? Are you saying God sinned?
No, God did not sin. To repent is to change your mind about something. In Exodus 32:14, the same word that is elsewhere translated "repent" is used to describe what God did in response to Moses' intercession. God had decided to destroy the rebellious Israelites, but Moses persuaded him not to on the basis of God's own character. What a mystery! 
7. How long did it take you to write this book?
I began writing in May of 2018 and finished in early September of 2018, so basically 4 months. That's fast, but I had 8 years' worth of research already completed (for my doctoral dissertation and several other research projects during seminary and grad school), so it was simply a matter of saying what I already knew.
8. Is there a study guide to go with Bearing God's Name so that a small group can read it together?
Yes! The study questions are listed in the back of the book, along with suggested Scripture passages to read and Bible Project videos to illuminate each chapter.
9. Are you going to make a video curriculum to go with the book?
Yes! I'm filming a video curriculum at the end of February 2020 to go with the book. Watch this space for information about where to find it!
10. Are you available to come speak to my church or small group?
I love speaking to church groups. Contact me about speaking for your congregation, small group, church retreat, or other special events. Because I'm a full-time professor, I have constraints on when I can travel, but I'd love to explore whether we can work something out.
If you have other questions, feel free to post them in the comments below!

Monday, January 27, 2020

2019 IVP Academic Reader's Choice Award Finalists

Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters is among the ten finalists at IVP Academic's annual Reader's Choice Book Awards. What an honor to be listed beside these great projects! This means dozens of readers took the time to nominate my book. Bearing God's Name is already in its 3rd printing since its release on December 10th. This is largely thanks to enthusiastic readers who have spread the word about the book. Thank you!

If you'd like to cast your vote, you have until February 7th to vote here.

While you're at it, check out the rest of these finalists:

A Week in the Life of Rome, by James L. Papandrea
The God Who Trusts, by Wm. Curtis Holtzen
Sculptor Spirit, by Leopoldo A. Sanchez M.
The Making of Stanley Hauerwas, by David Hunsicker
Disability and the Way of Jesus, by Bethany McKinney Fox
The Genealogical Adam & Eve, by S. Joshua Swamidass

Some of them have made their way onto my own reading list. I'm so grateful for the team at IVP that continues to produce thoughtful books to deepen our understanding and cultivate faithfulness.

Update as of Feb 10, 2020: Congratulations to Lucy Peppiatt and Bethany McKinney Fox, whose books won this year's award!

2019 IVP Academic Reader's Choice Book Award Finalist

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Author Interview: Kristen Padilla, "Now That I'm Called"

Image result for now that i'm called kristen padilla
Today I had the privilege of interviewing Kristen Padilla about her book entitled Now That I'm Called: A Guide for Women Discerning a Call for Ministry (IVP 2018). I have already recommended her book to students multiple times, so it was great to hear the backstory of the book.

Since the particular roles open to women differ from one denomination to another, Kristen explores ways that women from all kinds of churches can walk in obedience to God's call to participate in his mission. In her book, she says, "I want people, especially women, to understand that receiving this kind of call does not mean that they must hold a church office -- the role of a pastor, elder, or deacon, for example. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to the people of God, and these gifts can be exercised outside of a particular office in the church" (13). Her approach makes this book suitable for women from churches across the theological spectrum.

What inspired you to write this book? I was inspired to write this book for several reasons. First, I wrote this book because I saw a need for it. When I was a young woman sensing a call to vocational ministry, I had no one and no resource to guide me through the discernment process, the questions pertaining to being a woman in ministry, and next steps. As I say in my book, I felt like I was in a dark room with my arms outstretched trying to find my way to the door. By the time I was in seminary and had conversations with other women my age or younger called to ministry, I realized my story was not unique—it was the story of many women called to ministry. Thus, God put the idea and passion for this book in my heart, and ten years later it finally came to fruition. Second, I wrote this book out of a deeply held biblical conviction that God calls women to gospel ministry and that the Church of Jesus Christ needs women who are called by God to engage in gospel ministry in the church and world. I wanted to write a book that would encourage and aid these women in the journeys of discernment for the purpose of equipping future generations of female ministers of the gospel.

What was the most difficult aspect of the project? The most difficult aspect of writing was perhaps the most obvious one: writing a chapter on 1 Timothy 2:11-15. As many know, this passage has been used to silence and forbid women from many avenues of gospel ministry. It is the battleground where most of the fighting regarding women in ministry takes place. In my mind, I could not write a book for women called to ministry without addressing this passage of Scripture. However, I wanted to demonstrate a fidelity to the authority of Scripture and a humble and generous interpretative posture and tone. I also wanted to address head-on problematic and false interpretations that have held many women from pursuing ministry, namely that the female gender is by nature more easily deceived and that a certain “creation order” is a fail-proof guard against false teaching.

Author Kristen Padilla
What do you want readers to take away from your book? I want readers to walk away with a theological and biblical vision for women in ministry. I want them to see in Scripture that God’s plan has always included women and that women play an equally vital and important role in gospel ministry. My prayer is that women who read the book walk away with confidence grounded in Scripture and theology to follow God’s call to serve him in whatever role he has called them in obedience and humility.

Your book occupies the unpopular middle ground between the debate over women in ministry–not progressive enough to satisfy those who ordain women and too progressive for those who don't. What was your heart behind writing for those in this middle space? This is a great question. One of the first responses I received from the book was told to a friend of mine, “I wasn’t sure if she was complementarian or egalitarian.” A compliment or a criticism? I made the decision early on to write a book from that neither-complementarian-nor-egalitarian space or the in-between space for two reasons. First, I wanted the book to meet women in churches and traditions on both sides of this interpretive divide. My goal is to address the beginning of one’s call to vocational ministry—to lay the groundwork, if you will. Therefore, secondly, I did not see the need to talk from a strictly complementarian or egalitarian perspective, whatever that means today, since my goal wasn’t to talk about ordination or roles per se. I believe these two approaches have more in common than is often acknowledged. Most women in these so-called camps are tired of the debate and want to focus on the question: does God call women like me to serve him in ministry? I actually believe that this “in-between” space includes many women. This does not mean I do not have a particular interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 nor does it mean I am somehow theologically neutral when it comes to the roles of women in ministry. However, I did not believe it would be helpful to advocate from one perspective or another given the purpose of this book. Some will “blacklist” books if they are written from the other “side.” Even though I tried to stay in that middle space, I knew that for some my book would not be complementarian or egalitarian enough and would therefore be censored. This is indeed what has happened. In spite of this, I strongly believe that there is a strong middle and ecumenical ground where conversations about women in ministry can and should take place. I pray the posture and position I take in the book draws people together rather than exclude them.

In the year since your book has released, you've undoubtedly heard from many readers. What would you like to say to those who haven't read it yet? Or what would you want to add to what you've said in the book? Yes, I have been very fortunate and blessed to have heard from readers around the world, namely women for whom the book came at a time in their life when they needed biblical encouragement and guidance concerning the next steps in ministry. Hearing personal testimonies from readers is an author’s great reward. To those who haven’t read the book yet, I would of course say, “Read it!” On a more serious note, I try to bring out from Scripture stories of women called by God to proclaim the word of God for the people of God. There are many examples of women in Scripture doing just that—proclaiming a message from God to edify people in their day, and, by God’s design as Holy Scripture, edifying us today! In my book, I put the stories of these women next to stories of well-known men in Scripture to show a common pattern in how he calls and uses both men and women for his purposes. It would be a shame if the discussion about women’s place in God’s kingdom was limited to a few verses from the New Testament and did not take into account all of Scripture. If I could revise the book today, I would add more examples of women God uses in Scripture whose words are included for our edification today, such as the wise woman of 2 Samuel 20 and the Queen of Sheba. I want to continue to shine a light on the ways in which God is using women in his kingdom, which is why I am glad to say that I am writing a second book with Dr. Timothy George on women of the Reformation. My prayer is that the Church would be filled with God-called, theologically trained spiritual mothers who, alongside spiritual fathers, are equipping the saints for the work of ministry.

Thanks, Kristen, for writing this book and giving us a glimpse of your journey!