Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Best Books on Women in Ministry

People often ask me for book recommendations on the topic of women in ministry. Here are some of the books that I loan out most often, organized roughly from the most accessible to the most academic.

Image result for kristen padilla now that i'm calledKristen Padilla, Now That I'm Called: A Guide for Women Discerning a Call to Ministry (Zondervan, 2018)

Kristen writes for women who sense a call to ministry but are not sure how to carry it out in their context. Her book is sensitive to long-standing gender roles and dynamics in complementarian congregations and does not presume that readers are egalitarian. She warmly affirms the giftedness of women and encourages them in their quest to be faithful to God's call.

Alan F. Johnson, ed., How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals (Zondervan, 2010)

Image result for half the church carolyn custis jamesThis book is a treasure of stories about men and women who have shifted toward a more egalitarian outlook. A collection of testimonies rather than a systematic argument, this book shows the struggles of Christian leaders to be faithful to Scripture, their "aha!" moments, and the humility it took to admit that they had been wrong.

Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women (Zondervan)

Carolyn's book urges women to step up and participate in kingdom work. We can't sit back and expect the men to do everything! God created us to work as a team, side-by-side ruling over creation. Carolyn addresses some of the most common arguments for male-only leadership that are rooted in the creation story and in the letters of Paul, showing the problems with those interpretations and inviting readers to consider the urgency of God's design for partnership. This book is one that the entire church, not just women, need to read.

Image result for alice mathews gender roles
Alice Mathews, Gender Roles and the People of God: Rethinking What We Were Taught about Men and Women in the Church (Zondervan, 2017)
This is an accessible introduction to the key biblical text that so often figure in the debates over women in ministry. Dr. Mathews has been teaching a course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on this topic for many years, and this book is the best of her classroom content, now available to everyone.

Related imageLucy Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture's Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts (IVP, 2019)

Lucy's book is a brand new release from InterVarsity Press. As she reexamines the relevant biblical texts, Peppiat "finds a story of God releasing women alongside men into all forms of ministry, leadership, work, and service on the basis of character and gifting, rather than biological sex. Those who see the overturning of male-dominated hierarchy in the Scriptures, she argues, are truly rediscovering an ancient message―a message distorted by those who assumed that a patriarchal world, which they sometimes saw reflected in the Bible, was the one God had ordained." (from publisher's book description)

Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Baker, 1992)

Dr. Keener's book landed on my desk on an interesting day. An invitation to preach had just been retracted on account of my gender (the pastor got complaints when people found out I was coming). Dr. Keener examines the cultural and historical context that motivated Paul's statements, offering a new perspective on how to read them responsibly.

Image result for cindy westfall paul and genderCynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle's Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Baker, 2016)

Dr. Westfall explores the broader question of gender according to Paul, revisiting the most controversial texts to offer a fresh perspective. She is historically grounded and moves the debate forward in helpful ways based on the latest research.

You'll notice that the subtitles of several of these books share a similar tone: recapturing, rediscovering, rethinking, reclaiming. These authors all agree that something is missing in Evangelical churches today. In our efforts to obey the Bible, our churches have implemented practices that inadvertently prevent gospel ministry and silence the Spirit's work. These authors -- all of them Evangelicals -- call us back to the Scriptures to take another look. Things are not as simple as many have assumed ("women, be silent"), and our faithful reading and practice of Scripture depends upon a careful reassessment. If Scripture is to remain our authority for faith and practice, we cannot afford to get this wrong.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

N. T. Wright and a Book for Both Bedside Tables

What books are sitting on your bedside table?

About 10 years ago I had an opportunity to meet New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop the Right Rev. Dr. N. T. Wright. We shook hands. Although it was spontaneous, I knew instantly what I wanted to say to him. It went something like this:

N. T. Wright is known for his ability to bridge the gap
between the academy and the church (Photo: C Imes)
"It's an honor to meet you, Dr. Wright. My husband and I would like to thank you. You are nearly the only writer who has the distinction of appearing on both of our bedside tables."

I was in seminary at the time. I spent my days reading books like his Jesus and the Victory of God. My husband, on the other hand, did not gravitate towards non-fiction, and certainly not academic books. But he picked up a copy of Wright's Simply Christian and loved it. What a gift to have found a respected scholar who also had the ability to connect with wider audiences, beyond the academy! Wright gave us things to talk about as a couple that connected our worlds. That was just what we needed.

Academic and Accessible books by C. J. H. Wright and
Sandra L. Richter (Photo: C Imes)
I can think of two other biblical scholars whose books my husband and I have both read and enjoyed: Sandra L. Richter and Christopher J. H. Wright. Scholars like Wright, Wright, and Richter are my models. They know their stuff academically, but they also take the time to communicate in an accessible way for the church at large.

That's what makes me so excited about my new book release. I've done the scholarly research, defended the dissertation, and published it as well as other articles on related subjects. But this new book is totally down-to-earth. Our 17-year-old daughter read the entire manuscript of Bearing God's Name before we sent it off to the publisher so that we could get rid of all the words she didn't know.

This one's for the church. It's for men and women and teens and grandparents who struggle to know what to do with the Old Testament. It's for people who want to obey Scripture but aren't sure where to start. It's for new Christians as well as Christians who've been around the block a few times and still feel like they're missing something. It's for Earl, who hasn't read a book since high school other than a welding manual. It's for Marilyn, who kindly tried to read my dissertation and just got frustrated. It's for my parents, who have cheered me on for decades and now can finally benefit from all the hard work. It's for my former students, who can re-experience Torah class and share it with their families.

Bearing God's Name doesn't officially release until December 10th, but I'm already getting messages from readers almost every day who say that it's making a difference in their lives.

Not sure which book to choose for your bedside table? Here's a comparison:

If you're married and anything like my husband and me, you might need to pick up one of each.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Book Review: Elias Chacour's 'Blood Brothers'

Image result for elias chacour blood brothers

I'm leading a trip to Israel with Prairie College in 2020, so as part of my preparation I'm trying to get a handle on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first book on my list was Elias Chacour's Blood Brothers, which has been recommended to me several times. It was a fascinating read!

Chacour is a Palestinian Christian leader who came of age in the midst of great turmoil in the Middle East. He tells of his peaceful childhood in a Christian village in Galilee where his family had owned and tended the land for generations. They understood themselves to have been grafted in to the "olive tree" of Abraham through faith in Jesus. Chacour's father regularly did business with Jewish villages nearby, treating them as brothers. Like the rest of the watching world, his family sympathized with the plight of European Jews. Chacour's village was ready to welcome new Jewish settlers fleeing Europe to live among them and farm the land. But they were never given this chance.

The peace of their community was shattered when Zionist soldiers arrived after WWII, kicking Palestinian residents off of their own land and confiscating their property. The violence of the war seems to have infected the "peacekeeping" troops, who were funded by a variety of nations with special interest groups. Unlike their Jewish neighbors, these troops were violent and their aim was conquest. It was the beginning of a decades-long conflict that is still unresolved today.

Chacour has devoted his life to working for peace between Arabs and Jews. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, he has watched communities transformed by hope and brotherhood. So although this story is a brutal one, the undercurrent is hope -- hope for a peace made possible by restoring the dignity of every human being.

Given the almost unqualified support for the state of Israel extended by many American Christians, this story is vitally important for us to hear. Chacour does not call upon Westerners to reverse history and force Jews out of Palestine, but rather to withhold judgment on who is terrorizing whom when we lack the proximity to make such judgments. He laments, "How terribly sad that men could ignore God's plan for peace between divided brothers, even supporting one group as it wielded its might to force out the other" (142). We must learn to listen and heed the teaching of the prophet Isaiah, "Practice justice and righteousness, and then you will have peace" (227). If we want to walk in the way of peace, Chacour will be an able guide.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Guest Post: Antonios Finitsis, editor of "Dress and Clothing in the Hebrew Bible"

As a follow-up to my recent post on our regional SBL research group, the mastermind behind our research group and the editor of our project wanted to add a few words. Antonios Finitsis is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Pacific Lutheran University. Here's what he has to say:

Antonios Finitsis (left) with members of the second research group
 on dress in the Hebrew Bible (Pacific Lutheran University, 2018):
Jennifer Brown Jones, Sara Koenig, Carmen Imes, Shannon Parrott,
and Jenny Matheny (Photo: Brady Alan Beard). Several more
scholars joined us in 2019 for a new round of collaboration.
     Academics, we all love our footnotes, those long litanies of names and sources that are the hallmark of our work. It is a matter of ethics, respect, and attributing credit where credit is due. It is also recognition of the fact that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Any research is indebted to those you came before and devoted their minds to exploration and discovery. Thus, I would argue, it also an expression of gratitude towards the labor of scholars who shared their findings with us. Citations are indispensable for our work.
     In that spirit, I have to refer to my undergraduate Hebrew Bible professor in the University of Athens: Elias Oikonomou. He was the scholar who introduced me to biblical archaeology and exploded my imagination with his work on biblical ecology. His mind was a spring-source of new concepts and I was often taken by his thoughts. One of them, that apparently had a profound impact on me, was what he called: “collective thinking.” He explained that biblical scholars do most of their work in isolation, however, he believed that working and thinking together could lead to even greater discoveries. Today, I would add that it also leads to even greater gratification and contributes towards better community.
     Our Pacific Northwest research group was conceived on the theoretical basis of what professor Oikonomou called: “collective thinking.” I even likened its workings to a “think-tank” in the call for papers the year that I introduced it to the regional conference. My goal was double. First, I wanted to prove that biblical scholars in our side of the country do great work. Second, I wanted to build community. Higher Education institutions in our region are not as close to one-another as the ones on the East Coast and more importantly we do not have institutionalized annual conferences as they do. The result is a true Wild West loner feeling for all of us. If I were going to do this research group right, I would potentially affect our regional prestige and our sense of community.
     So the call for the Research Group on Clothing went out in 2014 and, as they typically say, the rest is history and in our case it is also a book. All of us who study history though know that nothing simply happens. In our case there are two behind the scenes details that I wish to disclose. First, nothing would have happened if the scholars gathered had not brought their A-game with them. We all worked hard and inspired one another to surpass our expectations. Hence we put forward our book with pure joy and celebration. Then, as Carmen astutely observed above, the academic world is filled with fragile egos and I would add: with bitter feuds. Had that being the case with our research group, history would have been very different right now. The intellectual humility and spirit of generosity that this group of scholars brought and cultivated was unparalleled. I still remember the euphoria we all experienced at the end of our conferences. It was not a feeling anyone could have foreseen or construct artificially. That was a sign of a unique collaboration. Of course, our scholarship will be evaluated on the basis of its quality and we will be delighted to be engaged in dialogue. While the enthusiasm for our findings might fade, the memory of our community will be forever vibrant and energizing.
Thanks, again, Tony, for pouring your energy into this community of scholars and making the Pacific Northwest a truly collaborative place to work!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Our Regional Research Group: A Model for Academic Collaboration

One of the highlights of my academic career thus far has been participating in a unique research group in the Pacific Northwest. When we moved to Oregon in 2014, I discovered that the Hebrew Bible section for our region of the Society of Biblical Literature was engaged in a multi-year research project on clothing. I was in the midst of finishing my doctoral dissertation, which included a study of the garments worn by Israel's high priest, so I proposed a paper that would dive deeper into that topic. My paper proposal was accepted, and I began work on the most rigorous interdisciplinary project I had ever undertaken -- researching the production of dyes and fabrics in ancient times, the styles of clothing worn by the elites in cultures surrounding Israel, the Hebrew terms used for fabrics and colors, and the overall literary structure of the tabernacle instructions in Exodus. I was trying to get at the symbolic significance of Aaron's garments in their literary and cultural contexts.

Research sections of SBL can be quite competitive and critical. If you're lucky enough to have a paper proposal accepted, it can be an isolating experience to present your research among academic peers who then pompously critique it. Once I gave a paper at the national SBL meeting on the history of interpretation of a passage. I had just 20 minutes to survey 3,000 years of interpretive history, and one of the only four people in attendance lit into me for failing to mention Philo. Not everyone is that unfriendly, but the academic world is full of fragile egos, so people sometimes try to protect their turf and climb to the top by making others look stupid. I compensated for my nervousness with the clothing research group by exploring every possible angle of my topic.

I needn't have worried. This research group was entirely different. Thanks to the vision of Antonios Finitsis, the research group on Dress and Clothing in the Hebrew Bible is a warmly collaborative environment involving both junior and senior scholars that enables each member to produce his or her best work.

Here's how it works: Each member commits to attending the group for 2-3 consecutive years. In year one, each participant presents a paper on the topic of clothing in the Hebrew Bible and responds to someone else's paper. All the papers are distributed before the meeting and we all read all the other papers so that feedback can be prepared in advance. Each of us leaves the meeting with valuable suggestions for improvement.

In year 2, we present a revised version of our paper that incorporates the input of our fellow scholars. We also provide a formal response to one of the other revised papers and hear another respondent to our work. Following this second round of feedback, each of us revises our papers again, preparing a final version to be presented in year 3.

The essays are then collected for publication, resulting in a volume that is far more coherent and integrated than the average essay collection. The product of our research, entitled Dress and Clothing in the Hebrew Bible (T&T Clark), was released last month, the culmination of 5 years of scholarly collaboration.

Our group included Ehud Ben Zvi, Scott R. A. Starbuck, Ian D. Wilson, Sean E. Cook, Sara M. Koenig, Joshua Joel Spoelstra, Shawn W. Flynn, and myself. We are a rather eclectic bunch. Though we share an interest in the Hebrew Bible, our group includes people from Jewish, Catholic, mainline Protestant, and Evangelical traditions teaching at a wide range of institutions, from the University of Alberta to Gonzaga to Seattle Pacific to Prairie College. We span an international border, including Americans and Canadians.

I learned so much from my colleagues -- both in their own papers and in their responses to mine. By the end of this project, we have more than just a published volume. We have become friends -- helping each other with rides and housing for regional meetings, offering career advice, and cheering each other on in our work. I am so grateful for Tony's leadership, and thrilled to be participating in a second round of papers with another stellar group of scholars that will become a second volume on this topic. (This time around I'm working on clothing metaphor in imprecatory psalms). This unique approach to collaboration is now attracting scholars from as far away as Ontario, Colorado, and Utah.

Drawing of Pharaoh Seti I with the goddess Maat
at Abydos by Abigail Guthrie (Photo: C Imes)
A special bonus as I worked on the first volume was discovering that my TA, Abigail Guthrie, has quite the talent for drawing. Two of her illustrations made it into the book. Congratulations, Abby, and thanks for your great contribution!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Body of Christ, Broken for You: What Communion Taught Me About Church

It may not seem like such a big deal to stand there holding a tray of bread squares. Don't be fooled. It's a very big deal.

Let me back up. Two years ago I arrived at Prairie College as professor of Old Testament. I was ready to teach and ready to serve. In my first couple of weeks here, a colleague approached me to see if I'd be willing to help serve communion at our convocation chapel. I was surprised at how much this meant to me. Forty years old at the time, I couldn't recall having ever been asked to serve communion before. I've attended church my entire life -- not casually, but devotedly. If there is such a thing, I'm a professional Christian. I've dedicated my life to this faith, to this message. I've been to Bible college and seminary. I spent 15 years as a missionary. But I'm a woman. Perhaps that's why I had never been asked to pass out bread squares and tiny cups of juice to fellow believers.

For chapel we passed the trays down long rows. Somehow I messed up the every-other rhythm or sent the wrong tray first down the row, which meant that people were trying to hold a cup while passing a tray and taking bread. That didn't work very well (these things take practice, of which I had none!). In the end, everyone was served and our job was done. I felt mostly like an imperfect cog in a machine. Happy to help, but nervous and clumsy.

The body of Christ, broken for you (Photo: C Imes)
This year was different. This year at our convocation chapel those of us serving stood at the front of the auditorium. Everyone came forward to receive communion. I held the tray of bread as people passed in front of me. I looked each one in the eye and told them, "The body of Christ, broken for you."

The music was a bit loud. I'm not sure whether most of them even heard me. But something powerful happened as I said over and over, "The body of Christ, broken for you." I knew most of these people by name. I knew many of their stories. Some of them I loved deeply. Others -- to be frank -- not so much. In context of these relationships, those simple words became profound as my heart silently completed each sentence:

"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose body is also broken."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose spirit is crushed."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose mental health is tenuous."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose family is estranged."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose sin is still hidden."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . who is growing in grace."

A few people approached who I've never really clicked with. People who annoy me. They've never seemed to like me, either, but they had no choice but to come to me for bread.

"The body of Christ, broken for you."

My words to them were the same as to all the others, and this time the Spirit gently convicted me. Would you withhold love from one I love enough to die for?

I felt ugly places in my heart close over with forgiving love as I silently repented.

I heard a still small voice say to me, "The body of Christ, broken for you . . . who have failed to love." I needed as much grace as every other person I served. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

This story didn't take place in church. It was in a college chapel. But it illustrates one reason why listening to a sermon via podcast can never replace church attendance. Sunday morning is not primarily an intellectual transaction, nor is it primarily concerned with my vertical relationship with God, though it includes both of those dimensions. When we show up together at the foot of the cross, divisions are healed, grace is conveyed from one person to another, and we become just a little bit more like the family of faith God intended. As Kevin Peters said in his message that day,
"Our God is radically relational. . . . God designed us to be connected to him and to each other."
Mark Jonah had introduced communion with Hebrews 12:1-2, focusing particularly on the words, "Jesus . . . for the joy set before him, endured the cross." Mark always assumed that this joy was the joy of heaven awaiting Jesus, an eternal reward for faithfulness. Lately, though, he has been discovering a new dimension of Jesus' joy -- the joy of restored relationships now. Jesus knew that his death would have an immediate effect on relationships here. That joy made his suffering worth it. That joy is the reason we bother with church.

Yes, the body of Christ is broken. But it's brokenness brings life to you . . . and to me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Book Review: Chris Wright's "Old Testament in 7 Sentences"

This is a very sneaky book.

Choosing just seven sentences to summarize the Old Testament would be a challenge for anyone, but for someone who has spent his entire career deeply immersed in the Old Testament it's almost painful! Which parts can be left out? How can decades of study and teaching be captured in a brief and accessible way? Christopher J. H. Wright is no newbie when it comes to the Old Testament. He has written commentaries on Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Deuteronomy, and Exodus as well as numerous books on OT ethics, preaching, and the mission of the people of God. Wright is just the right person write this book. (Did you see what I did there?)

Christopher J. H. Wright is a giant in Old Testament studies.
Just a few of his many books are pictured here.
(Photo: C Imes, at the Regent College bookstore)
So what makes this book sneaky? Wright acknowledges the difficulty of an endeavor like this. Based only on the table of contents, I made a list of all the things "missing" from the book, important moments in Israel's history and key aspects of biblical theology (image of God, covenant formula, the character of God in Exodus 34, Israel's failure to keep covenant, exile, etc). By the end of the book, Wright had covered everything on my list. Back to my point, Wright has managed to sneak a massive amount of biblical theology in this slim volume. He may have chosen just seven sentences, but attached to each one is a wealth of insight into surrounding texts. His book is a wonderful antidote to Old Testament illiteracy (not to mention Andy Stanley's exhortation to "unhitch" from the Bible Jesus read). It would make a great choice for a Bible Survey course or an adult Bible study. Discussion questions for each chapter are found in the back of the book.

So why would I spend my time reading a basic introduction to the Old Testament when I already have PhD in the subject? I'm always on the lookout for solid resources to recommend. This book in particular piqued my interest because Wright wrote the foreword to my new book. I'm a big fan of his work. He and I agree that the Old Testament law is a gift, and that the exodus demonstrates God's character. We agree that our destiny is not a disembodied existence, but that God plans to renew this world and restore the beauty of creation (see page 27). We share a passion to help believers discover the psalms as way of bringing all of who we are into God's presence (see page 149). Frankly, we agree on just about everything. If you flip through my copy of the book, here's what you'll find in the margin: stars, "exactly," "right," "cool," and "YES!"

Where do you read #ivpress? I brought Wright's book
 along this summer on a 6-hour hike at Lake Louise
in Banff National Park. (Photo: C Imes)
I'm grateful to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy. It's no surprise to me that this was an outstanding read. Wright's The Old Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic delivers what it promises -- a small book with wide-ranging insights. Light enough to bring on a travel adventure . . . inspiring enough to want to read it when you're there.