Monthly Archives: August 2009

Bible Fundamentalism Should (in Theory) lead to more liberal generosity and less Legalism

churchladySometimes people think that Christians are more legalistic and more narrow in their theology if they are biblical fundamentalists. Actually I believe that a lot of legalism and narrow theological requirements arise from a lack of respect for the Bible– specifically, the ambiguity and openness of the Bible on a variety of topics.

First, what is a bible fundamentalist? Popular skewed conceptions would be someone like the church lady from the Saturday night live skit who has bad fashion sense and who lives a sheltered life seperated from the world and is somewhat skeptical of science, humanities (philosophy, art, literature etc are to humanistic), etc. The historic ‘fundamentalist movement’ in Christianity was a response to science and non-theistic humanism from around 100 years ago. A series of pamphlets called the ‘fundamentals’ were written in 1905 emphasizing the fundamentals of Christian thought in response to then-popular ‘higher criticism’ readings of the Bible which discounted most supernatural events (you can still buy them as a 4 volume set.*)

At root the fundamentalist movement, as a hyper-protestantism, wanted to focus as much as possible on what the Bible says. In short, if the Bible said it, then it is essential (or ‘fundamental’), but if the Bible is unclear or ambiguous on a point or issue, then we cannot require it. What should be required as fundamentals of Christianity then are things like the Divinity of Christ, his virgin birth, that he died and rose again for the sins of the world, and that anyone who believes, etc…basically the apostles creed, and a few more details.**

When I taught at Bethel in Minnesota, I used to have students come to me who were frustrated with their parents church because they felt it was too legalistic, and they tended to think that the legalism they found there was the result of the church taking the bible too seriously. I would often tell them that the problem wasn’t that the church was taking the Bible too seriously, but rather, maybe that their church wasn’t taking the Bible seriously enough. A lot of the legalism that people come up with is not particularly Biblical at all– in most cases a few verses are cherry picked, often out of context, other counter-verses are ignored, and so the legalistic rule arises from a non-biblical basis, it seems to me. The Bible, I would tell the students, is probably your best best for having freedom from legalism. Those of us who resonate with this Biblical orientation like it because it provides us a basic document around which to have our discussions and debates. Its a common touchstone or point from which we start and agree to take it seriously, and go from there. Of course there will be some differences of opinion and interpretations, and some seem much better than others, and can be defended more easily.

But it seems that an often overlooked fact is that the Bible provides a key not only to unity through common viewpoints, but to unity through allowing diversity, insofar as it allows for differences of opinions on a lot of things. Now obviously any church allows some diversity. Some churches are so liberal that they don’t expect their parrishoners to take the Bible as the Word of God in a literal sense at all. But even for those denomenations which do, there is a wide variety. Catholics, of course, see the institutional church as the mouthpiece of God, and in some ways as the origin of the authority of Scripture. So rather than just the Bible they will also consult Church tradition and papal writings. Anglicans are known for their book of common prayer which gives a lot of set guidelines for praying and practical Christian worship. Some other protestant denomenations, although they don’t really focus on church history, have a lot of ‘sticking points’– like the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, may not allow others outside their denomenation to take communion, they may require abstinence from alcohol, and not do ecumenical work projects (cross-denomenational cooperative ventures). Reformed churches, who certainly wouldn’t usually care about alcohol use and would have less strict issue than the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod, usually have some ‘sticking points’ which they consider essential– such as a strong focus on predestination as God’s ordaining and choosing whoever is saved, and a focus on the depravity of man. Some of them would require adherence to a whole series of Reformed Church writings and documents in addition to Scripture (as the means by which to interpret Scripture). The Free Church I grew up in was somewhat legalistic about drinking and smoking and dancing, and very concerned about following the Bible, but they allowed differences of opinions on things like how churches are structured (elder or congregational rule), views about predestination (does God choose us or must we make a decision?), and a number of other such theological points. The general motto for this approach is: “Where is it written”– if you can’t show me clearly in Scripture where is says what you are saying, and if you can’t totally explain away objections to your view which are also in Scripture, then you have to allow for alternatives to your viewpoint. We will have common opinion on matters which are clear, and we will allow for diversity of opinion on matters which are not absolutely clear. In this way then, Scripture unifies Christians on both ends– by common agreement on the clear things, and by allowing difference of opinion on less clear less essential things. Unity is gained not just through us all agreeing on everything, but by us being willing to get along with those who have views different than our own, but who we still consider as Brothers or Sisters.

So, from my perspective, being a fundamentalist in this sense about the Bible won’t lead to more legalism or a narrower theology necessarily. Where Scripture speaks clearly to theology or living, our views will be narrowed (believing Christ is the son of God is essential, and believing that confession of sin is essential to salvation is essential– other viewpoints here are excluded) but in other ways adhering ONLY to scripture will create an open space for allowing more diversity of opinion on particular issues as well.

Many of my friends who were raised in fundamentalist churches still have a bad taste in their mouth. My church I grew up in evidently was not as legalistic or self righteous as many are, so my experiences may be unique, but I really appreciate the Bible centered tradition I grew up in BECAUSE it was what allowed me early on in my Christian walk to question points of view I saw in my church which I in turn found to have scant strong evidence in Scripture. More importantly though, I think my bible-oriented tendencies molded me in such a way that I tend to reject overly-narrow interpretations of Scripture– ones which restrict options in a way which Scripture does not seem to be restrictive.  So one could say that a fundamentalist upbringing made me too liberal to fit into narrow denomenational theological structures.  Even if I would agree with a denomenational view of something in particular, if I felt it wasn’t clear in Scripture, I would certainly not want it to be held as a fundamental belief required by the church. My agreeing with the denomenations view is irrelevant– what matters is what I am allowed to expect of others, in light of Scripture, and Scripture in many cases requires charity of me towards viewpoints which I don’t hold but which also have some valid support from Scripture. This openness is not a new mode of Christian thought at all– it has in fact been a dominant mode of thought in many protestant and in their own way Catholic churches for many years (I don’t have time to go into the wide diversity of opinion in the Catholic Church here, but the range goes from hyper conservative pentecostal Catholics to liberal humanist Catholics)  But for some churches, in the face of a general loss of consensous– in the face of what some call the ‘postmodern predicament’ by which they mean general lack of sure moorings and a sense of a loss of Truth– in the face of this some churches have hunkered down and made a strict theological stance more imperative.  This is only natural, but there is in this movement loss of the more open handed bible-oriented discussions.  More and more, contemporary popular sages are looked too to give us a systematic– and there is nothing wrong with learning from great theologians and pastors.  But it seems like there has been a general loss of people’s ability to think for themselves and to critically study scripture themselves.   People don’t have time to think, and study has been reduced to reading a book so I can know what to think (and most people don’t have time for that– they have others read books to learn what to think and then have them tell them what to think…)   

The long and short of this post is this: focusing on what the Bible tells you will not make you more legalistic.  I believe it probably will tend to make you less so, and to losen up some of your theological essentials, while also helping to you realize what is really essential about the Gospel.  So read your Bible more. -Andy Gustafson

*If you want to buy the Fundamentals book, I’d recommend you buy it used through amazon:

**Apostles creed is here:

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Atheist Womanizing Jean Paul Sartre On Freedom, Authenticity and Responsibility

images[7]Jean Paul Sartre was a famous atheist French philosopher. I have found his writings on the human existential situation to be very powerful, and they help me see how I am responsible for the decisions I make.   Obviously I don’t endorse Sartre’s atheism or womanizing, but I know he helps me take responsibility for my life decisions, and helps me to walk with fear and trembling.

First, Sartre says that we are “condemned to be free” which sounds strange. Consider this: we don’t always like the fact that we have freedom. When we are faced with decisions like which college to go to, which job to take, where to live, who to marry, when to get married, etc, we often wish that we don’t have choices, because when the choice is mine, the mistake is mine. I would rather that I couldn’t have done otherwise, or that circumstances forced me, or that there was nothing else I could have done, or even that God caused it, because then I can be a passive bystander, victim, onlooker. I don’t like the situations where it seems like I have a variety of options, and a monumental choice to make. It scares me. I’d rather not take that responsibility. But Sartre says we are condemned to be free.  We have no choice except to make a choice, and to face the consequences of that choice.  

I once taught an interesting little class at a small college called “human nature for nurses” and most of these nurses were 30 and 40-something year old mothers. One had 8 children. When we discussed Sartre, I said, ‘most of you feel somewhat like your life is set out for you– maybe even that you are trapped. But in fact you are making a decision to do whatever you do. For example, you could stand up on your desk and start dancing and whooping loudly– that would make a lasting difference on the way we look at you from here on out. But you choose not to do that. You think you have to go home and feed the kids and clean the house. But you could just take off after class and drive south and be in mexico within 24 hours, never to be heard from again. But you choose to not do that. You choose to be faithful to your children, your husband, your life. Why pretend you aren’t making these choices? You are never without freedom.’   Whenever we make a choice, we choose not to make a whole bunch of other ones.  When I choose to not do something about a situation, I am making a choice– a choice to not try any of a hundred things to change the situation.  Yet in those cases I often tell myself that ‘I can’t do anything about this’ to help me cope with my lack of response.  I fear the choice.  Yet I am condemned to be free– when I choose to not make a change, I am making a choice by doing that.

Sartre says what we should do is authentically make our choices by owning them and accepting the consequences as our own. But what we often do instead is that we act in BAD FAITH. For Sartre, bad faith is when we pretend to not be free when in fact we are. An example he gives is of a couple who he watches at a sidewalk cafe in Paris. They do not know each other well, he can tell, and they make small talk, although they seem to be very interested in each other. This goes on a long time when suddenly, as they are discussing something in the distance, the man puts his hand across the table onto hers. This is the pivotal moment of decision: she could grasp his hand back, look him in the eyes and say “I’m so happy you feel the same way I do”; or she could stand up, slap him, and say “thats a bit forward right off the bat buster!” but instead, says Sartre, she does what many women do in such a situation– she pretends she didn’t notice and the conversation goes on uninterrupted.  Sartre says that what is likely to happen from here on in the evening is that various choices will be made, those acts will only be slightly acknowledged, and one thing will lead to another and in the morning she will then claim to her friends that “love just swept us off our feet, and there was nothing I could do!” (it is Paris, of course).  BUT she is lying– to herself, and to her girlfriends.  Of course there were many choices along that evening’s way, many of which were not authentically acknowledged as choices. We, like these French lovebirds, make choices all the time, then try to blame fate, God, or circumstances.

Now Sartre does not believe in God, so he doesn’t believe in a Designer of the universe. Traditionally theists and even diests more like aristotle believed in some sort of designed order. Humans have an essence to fulfill– a what it is to be a human– that we try to achieve. I’m not a good person, I need to improve, I have a long ways to go– phrases like that indicate that I have a goal, an essence I should be achieving, and that I don’t measure up to it in my living. My existence is less than my essence. My essence preceeds my existence in that I was born already with an essence to fulfill. But since Sartre denies God, he says we are born without an essence. Our essence will simply be whatever we do (existence). So for Sartre things are just the reverse– existence preceeds essence. In fact, existence creates essence. I can live my life like an animal and become basically animal like in my behaviors and who I am.  (I see this in some of the meth addicts I know, or the horn-dogs who constantly act like male dogs constantly on the prowl, or anyone who seems to focus only on animal instinct sorts of drives and desires (like Kierkegaard’s aesthete)  Or I can choose to live reasonably, learn through education, and become intelligent and more free (as I learn to control my passions reasonably, I am more able to make choices and not simply respond like a wild  squirrel).  The point for Sartre is not only that I choose my destiny, but that my choices create habits, and essentially I create what I become and what happens in the world.

Now it is very typical for us to notice the differences between our opinion and anothers, and its also easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Of course as a Christian I do think God has a hope for us as to what we will become– he doesn’t want humans merely acting like wild squirrels or dogs in heat.  This is why I can be a better or worse human– I can fulfill some of my potential, or not.  But Christians should be, I think, the most charitable people on the planet, and so we should be the ones who always see redeemable prospects even in the dilapitated. 

I think there is a great deal of truth in the writings of Sartre for us to learn from.   Our choices do make us who we are.  Drug addicts, porn addicts, shopaholics and anyone who falls into bad habits are not born, they are habituated through one choice after another.   One doesn’t simply wake up and find that they’ve become completely out of shape– this happens one donut at a time, and each of those is a choice.  More importantly it happens through the choices we don’t make: to forgo the second helping, we don’t get around to going to the gym– on monday, tuesday, wednesday, thursday, friday, saturday, sunday, monday, tuesday….and so on.  I don’t choose to be a slob outright, but I do with each dish I don’t wash, each thing I don’t put away, each time I put off cleaning.  Anywhere we look in our lives, we are making choices, because we are free.  Trees don’t have to worry about such things, and neither does grass, or rocks, or clouds.  But they also don’t GET to choose.  (Squirrels might choose a little, but they are run mostly by instincts, like a low-level computer game program)

Sartre is also right about my tendency to blame circumstances and avoid responsibility.  We like to make all kinds of excuses for our behaviors.   “I’m a guy I can’t help it” or, “I’m a girl, I can’t do that” or “its just harder for me”.   The people who didn’t fight against slavery, those who didn’t fight for a woman’s right to vote, those who settle for whatever the status quo is when they should resist it often fall prey to this overwhelming urge to say “there is nothing I can do”.   The fact is, it may be quite difficult for me to do much at this point because I’ve developed habits that make it nearly impossible.  But just like an out of shape person can get into shape, we make choices to change so that we can do more.  If I am overly shy, I can, by God’s grace, become less shy.  If I don’t feel like I can do much about the homeless because I don’t know any, I can get to know some.  If I feel like I don’t have time to help out at my church because of my hectic schedule, I can change my schedule.  If I feel like with our house payments and car payments we both have to work 60 hours and there isn’t much opportunity for us to work on our marriage, we can choose to downsize, rightsize, and live within our means so we CAN have opportunity to spend time together.  How many men have let their marriages deteriorate on the excuse that they have too much work to do to devote themselves to the relationship?  How many women have alienated their husbands by not working harder to overcome certain habits they know undermine their marriage, claiming all the time that “this is just who I am! Deal with it!”.  We make choices constantly, but we often want to wash our hands of that responsibility.    

Of course we know God is sovereign.  Some think that that means that God causes everything that happens to happen.  But that isn’t really what sovereignty means, and in my opinion it isn’t what the Bible says (for those who do care about the Bible)  A sovereign king doesn’t cause everything that happens in his kingdom to happen, but he does have general control so that if there is an uprising, he will quell it.  If there is a problem, he will solve it, etc.  God’s sovereinty is about his power, not his causing everything.   God does whatever He wants to (psalm 115:3) and nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1: 37)  But this isn’t about God’s causing things to happen.  When the Bible speaks about God causing things it is often general will– like God causes the sun to rise on the wicked and the good (matthew 5:45).  Does God intervene in particular circumstances?  Of course, like when Jesus turned water to wine, when Abraham’s wife miraculously had a baby, or when God hardened pharoh’s heart.  But to expect that sort of constant causation on God’s part is not particularly Biblical, or necessary to explain events in the world.  Could it be that God caused me to put on swimtrunks this morning, and to not make my bed?  I suppose, but I doubt it.  Its more likely from my reading of scripture and my experience of the world that He allows us an awful lot of freedom to make choices, and to screw things up.  Of course if anyone can clean up my messes, and turn my failures into successes, it is God.  God is, in this sense, like that guy in natural born killers that they call to clean up their mess.  He can fix any situation.  That’s why He is so amazing.  That IS His power. 

But back to us making choices– when you decide who to marry, you are making that choice.  Some people want security about that choice by saying God caused me to make the right choice.  I don’t see it that way.  I think that the security you have for that choice is in entrusting to God your marriage, and committing to do everything in your power to honor and sustain that marriage, and to fulfill your promise before God and your friends and family– acknowledging that you cannot do it without their support and sustaining love.  In other words, you don’t get a guarantee that God made what happened happen.  You instead get a guarantee that God is powerful enough to get you through whatever it is you get into.  To me, that is trusting in a sovereign God. 

But on this view I can’t go around and claim that everything that is happening is God’s will.  Its within His will– but again, me wearing swimtrunks and not  making my bed, or my yelling at mike, or my failure to follow through, are not God’s doing, they are mine, and I am responsible for those choices.  I am in some sense creating my own future, my own destiny– with each donut, each workout, each smart choice, each stupid choice, each date, each response, each decision to be faithful or faithless to God.  God of course is sovereign, and can do what he wants, but in making us in his image, he gave this amazing and extremely frightening thing– free will.  We are  constantly called to choose this day whom we will serve throughout Scripture.  From Adam’s choice to sin, to Noah’s choice to obey, to Abrahams choice to follow, Israelites choice to turn from God and wander, Davids choice to sin, Jesus’ choice to follow through, and Paul’s choice to go to Rome, the Bible is all about people making choices– monumental choices– which God helps to direct towards his ultimate ends.  But people making huge decisions and taking responsibility for them as they affect and in some small way direct history as they obey or disobey God– that is what resonates with me from Sartre.  I don’t think it is Sartre’s truth, its just truth about life, and all truth is God’s truth.  Thanks be to God (even for sartre!)  🙂   –Andy Gustafson

If you want to learn more about sartre, you probably shouldn’t just jump into “Being and Nothingness”.  I’d maybe start with an intro book like a sartre for beginners, or a general introduction to existentialism that has a bit on sartre.  

If you want to join our fans of simple free sight on facebook, feel free.  We might do a philosophy study group this winter if there is interest.

PS: I’m not an open theist.  I know some calvinists tend to think that a more armenian view of free will leads to semi-pelagianism and open theism, but that is not the case, although we don’t have time for that here.

egalitarianism, gender roles, and women leaders in church

still_side_by_side_webEach week at simple free we have someone lead the liturgy. We pass that responsibility around, and different people take turns. Tonight Heidi led. In some churches, to have a woman lead the service in that way would be considered not only strange but unbiblical.  (to those of you from either a mainline church like the presbyterians, or if you are from a nonchurch background, this whole discussion may just seem sort of crazy, so sorry about that!)

I don’t know what all the people in simple free think about women in leadership. I’m sure everyone would want to have a biblical view on the matter– but I’m not sure they are of one mind as to what scripture says about this issue.   I do hope that simple free is a place where people feel free to discuss and debate this issue openly and to really try to see what Scripture says, or more importantly maybe, what it doesn’t say about this issue.

One could characterize the debate regarding the roles of men and women as having two opposing viewpoints: egalitarianism, and complimentarianism. Usually egalitarianism is the view that women and men stand on more or less equal footing, according to the bible, and can perform similar functions, but that the differences are usually person-based, not particularly gender based. In other words, women don’t always do better with children, men are not always better leaders than women, etc. The complimentarian says that God has created men and women with distinct gender specific roles to fulfill, and unless they realize and work to be what God has ordained for them to be through their gender, they will live a life of frustration and inadvertent disobedience. True fulfillment will come from embracing ones gender role.

There are at least three areas in which one could differ on these two sides: A. Career B. Home C. Church  It is possible to, for example, be a complimentarian with regard to B and C, but an egalitarian with regard to A (whether it is consistent is another matter- more on that below…)

A. Career: The egalitarian with regard to career would say that women can do anything, even be president of the united states. Complimentarians with regard to career would think this is inappropriate, as a womans place is not in that sort of leadership position, and perhaps not even in the workplace at all (very conservative Christian groups believe women should work at home, unless severe financial distress forces her to work).

Caveat: Now of course the egalitarian doesn’t say that a woman must work– of course if one spouse makes enough, and the other can spend more time with the kids, then thats great. But the decision of who works and who doesn’t wouldn’t be made simply on the basis of gender. On the other hand, women are pregnant for 9 months at a time, and that can interfere with a lot of careers– but that is a practical matter, not a biblical directive.

B. Home: Egalitarians with regard to home tend to think that a husband and wife should make decisions jointly, and that no one person has automatic say-so on matters. Complimentarians are certainly for discussion and dialogue, but ultimately, it is the man’s job to make the tough decisions, as thats part of his leadership responsibility in the home.

Caveat: in most cases, the complimentarian would hope for a peaceful unified decision, and there will hopefully be few cases where the male would need to make a decision against his wifes wishes.

C. Church: Egalitarians with regard to church believe that any role in church is open to men or women– that would include pastoral role, eldership, etc. God has not limited people by their gender, and Christianity has a biblical mandate for gender equality and Christianity has been a great supporter of greater freedoms for women from the beginning.

Complimentarians tend to believe that women should not teach or lead over men, except in the case of male children. So women should not be pastors, or elders, or theology or bible instructors (except in classes that are aimed at women).

Of course there are slight variations– not all egalitarians are as adamant, not all complimentarians are as restrictive.

Now one could be an egalitarian with regard to women’s career roles, and a complimentarian with regard to their church roles– for example, you could say that its OK to vote for a woman for president, but not ok for a woman to be a pastor, because the pastoral role has specific gender requirements, but that restriction doesn’t apply to secular careers. But honestly, this seems sort of like a strange view. In lots of churches there are women who in many cases are some of the smartest most gifted potential leaders in their churches who are not allowed to utilize their gifts because of gender specific restrictions. The complimentarian position seems to me to face its greatest stress point when you have female university professors who teach males daily, or female doctors who tell males how to live their life on a daily basis, or female judges who are handing out sentences to males daily, who are simultaneously told by their churches that they are unable to be leaders in their church, because men are leaders, and women are unable to perform such functions.   If in fact a church thinks leadership and decisionmaking abilities and authority are gender based, then to be consistent it seems that such churches should not allow women who are leaders such as doctors, judges or professors to be members of their church.  Then they would be more consistent.  

In Nebraska, there are very few women with an excutive position in business over the VP level.  We rank 48th in the nation.  There are lots of reasons for this, including women’s choices, pregnancy, etc.  But certainly part of the reason for this is cultural and institutional.  It is much easier for guys to get mentoring to step into leadership roles than women, because guys hang out together at the duck blind, etc.  There is also a cultural expectation that guys will run things because guys have run things.  Kind of like how we thought for years that our next president would be a white guy– whether democrat or republican.  Were women incapable of being president in the 1800s?  Yes, but not due to gender.  It was due to opportunity– particularly cultural expectation, education afforded them, and societal norms. 

I saw the same thing when I taught at Bethel University in Minneapolis before I moved to Omaha.  Two of the strongest departments at the school were philosophy and physics, and both were notoriously short of women students.  Regularly, when we encouraged a woman student to go into philosophy, her response was usually incredulity: “but I’m a woman!”  Often cultural expectations led most women at Bethel (and most Christian schools) to think that their gender directed them more towards either education, nursing, or social work.  The women who were philosophy majors excelled, and often went on successfully to graduate school.  The cycle was broken and now those women will hopefully be role models for other women. 

Complimentarians in these debates often view their position as biblical, and the other side as mere adaptation of cultural norms from secular society.  But this is a fairly ungenerous stance to take, I think.  There are Biblical passages which seem to place restrictions on women based on gender, but the typical egalitarian response here is that the Bible reflects a degree of gender bias from its own culture, and those specific passages should not be cherry picked, but must be read in the context of other passages which seem to reflect a gender equality.

There are lots of books written giving biblical support for complimentarianism. But there is an entire organization whose sole purpose it is to show how that egalitarianism is THE Biblical position. It is called “Christians for Biblical Equality”  This site has a lot of interesting articles about egalitarianism and complimentarianism. 

Again, the goal of bringing up the egalitarian view is not to criticize the complimentarian view as being unbiblical per se– rather, it is to open the discussion.  It may be that there is more support for complimentarianism than I think there is.  But at this point, I personally lean towards giving women as much equal opportunity as possible, and I base that on my reading of Scripture alongside my practical experiences of seeing women leaders who are very good and gifted, and also seeing many gifted women who are stiffled, stymied and stunted in the name of the Bible when it seems to me it may have more to do with human cultural tradition than with clear Biblical guidance.  It would be a shame to unnecessarily restrict the working of God’s grace and so keep the church from experiencing the full giftings of 50% of our Church members.  I will continue to advocate women going into traditionally-male occupations (such as philosophy professors) and I believe this is itself a mission to allow the grace of the gospel to continue to equalize us as God wanted.    (-Andy Gustafson)

A few of their specific  points on their “Biblical Truths” page are worth quoting in their entireity, not because I totally agree with them, but because the biblical support for egalitarianism is often ignored by the other side:

FROM THE CBE website:

 The Bible teaches the full equality of men and women in Creation and in Redemption (Gen 1:26-28, 2:23, 5:1-2; I Cor 11:11-12; Gal 3:13, 28, 5:1). The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself in the totality of Scripture, the authoritative Word of God (Matt 5:18; John 10:35; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). We believe that Scripture is to be interpreted holistically and thematically. We also recognize thenecessity of making a distinction between inspiration and interpretation: inspiration relates to the divine impulse and control whereby the whole canonical Scripture is the Word of God; interpretation relates to the human activity whereby we seek to apprehend revealed truth in harmony with the totality of Scripture and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To be truly biblical, Christians must continually examine their faith and practice under the searchlight of Scripture.7. The Bible teaches that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came on men and women alike. Without distinction, the Holy Spirit indwells women and men, and sovereignly distributes gifts without preference as to gender (Acts 2:1-21; 1 Cor 12:7, 11, 14:31).

 3. The Bible teaches that the forming of woman from man demonstrates the fundamental unity and equality of human beings (Gen 2:21-23). In Genesis 2:18, 20 the word “suitable” (kenegdo) denotes equality and adequacy. 

 5. The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order. Genesis 3:16 is a prediction of the effects of the Fall rather than a prescription of God’s ideal order. 


8. The Bible teaches that both women and men are called to develop their spiritual gifts and to use them as stewards of the grace of God (1Peter 4:10-11). Both men and women are divinely gifted and empowered to minister to the whole Body of Christ, under His authority (Acts 1:14, 18:26, 21:9; Rom 16:1-7, 12-13, 15; Phil 4:2-3; Col 4:15; see also Mark 15:40-41, 16:1-7; Luke 8:1-3; John 20:17-18; compare also Old Testament examples: Judges 4:4-14, 5:7; 2 Chron 34:22-28; Prov 31:30-31; Micah 6:4).

 9. The Bible teaches that, in the New Testament economy, women as well as men exercise the prophetic, priestly and royal functions (Acts 2:17-18, 21:9; 1 Cor 11:5; 1 Peter 2:9-10; Rev 1:6, 5:10). Therefore, the few isolated texts that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women must not be interpreted simplistically and in  contradiction to the rest of Scripture, but their interpretation must take into account their relation to the broader teaching of Scripture and their total context (1 Cor 11:2-16, 14:33-36; 1 Tim 2:9-15).

 11. The Bible teaches that husbands and wives are heirs together of the grace of life and that they are bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility (1 Cor 7:3-5; Eph 5:21; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Gen 21:12). The husband’s function as head” (“kephale) is to be understood as self-giving love and service within this relationship mutual submission (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7).
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brothers keeper

Family Reunions

asm_IMG_1425At our family reunions there is a lot of laughter, a lot of silliness, and also a lot of deep conversations. It seems normal to us, but most everyone is an active Christian (they take it seriously). There are three free church pastors, a presbyterian pastor, a chaplain, a doctor-missionary to kenya, a lot of schoolteachers, an official in govt who oversees some of the 15Billion in AIDs relief from the US to Africa, an ethics officer from a major corp, a number of farmers, some nurses, some doctors, and a variety of other people.  But its not really about what their professions are– what really makes the family strong is what motivates them– whatever they are doing, for most of my relatives at this reunion, they are trying to live their life for God.

Most of these people are, as I said, active believers. And we all come together because we are either descendents of, or married to a descendent of, AG Gustafson, my great-grandpa who came from Sweden in the 1800s.

AG was not a Christian when he came to the US, but became one during a revival in young years here. I sometimes wonder what our family would be like if he had not become a Christian– I suppose a lot of decisions would have been made differently than they were– its impossible to know how things would have turned out. All my siblings met their spouse through the church-related college they went to. My parents met at a bible camp in the 30s. I grew up in a family which read the Bible each morning as we sat down for breakfast. We still do that often when I am home, and there is nothing I like better than hearing my fathers prayers.  That might seem folksy to some, but there are virtually no broken homes in our extended family, and I think there is a correlation. 

Its pretty easy when you come from this kind of background to take it for granted. I think if you don’t come from this kind of background its hard to understand. The thing that strikes me is that AG Gustafson did not come from this kind of tradition– he started it.  I just hope that I am able somehow to continue that family tradition, and times like this with family help me feel more devoted to that goal.  The strength of our family ties and family love is the result of a lot of different family members decisions to live their lives for something other than themselves– namely, Christ.   Our family is far from perfect, but I am thankful for it.      –Andy Gustafson

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Malcolm X at Simple Free Church?

asm_IMG_1405asm_IMG_1398This week we had the president of the Malcom X Foundation, Sharif Liwaru,  come speak to us.  We had a cookout before he spoke out on the porch.  Of course before the cookout we had our liturgy and worship inside.  Some just came for the burgers and Sharif, which was great. 

Sharif explained a basic history of Malcolm, including Malcolm X’s early years being involved with drugs and prostitutions, his conversion to nation of Islam while in prison, his eventual dissillusionment with Nation of Islam, and his eventual change of heart regarding whites and people of other faiths.  In the end, Malcolm X realized that every faith has some members who are hypocrites, and his focus was on working alongside people who wanted to tackle the problems of the day, regardless of race or creed.  Unfortunately this change of heart came only a year or so before he was assassinated by some Nation of Islam supporters. 

Some friends wondered why Simple Free was inviting a Muslim to speak at our group.  Some thought it was great.  Sharif and the Malcolm X foundation have a heart and a mission for a part of Omaha just north of Gifford Park which most people ignore.  We were challenged by the good things they are trying to do, and they are open to having the Malcolm X birthsite be utilized by other groups who have a desire to do good things in the neighborhood.  Obviously we have differences in theology and faith, but we do have some common concern and common goals for our neighbors, and it is always encouraging and challenging to hear about the good work that others are doing.  Sometimes its even more motivating to hear from those outside your own circles.  You see what others are doing, and you think, “why aren’t we doing something like that?” or “how can we do positive things to contribute to that part of town?” so we think there is great benefit in hearing from people reaching out in the neighborhood.   

Malcolm X was far from perfect.  He was a man who lived fervently, lived during a time of great racism, and he altered his views over time as he experienced more and more.   At times he was militant and said radical even violent things, but he was in some ways a product of his era.  It would have been interesting to see what he could have done if he had had more life to live after he became more concilliatory towards those outside the Nation of Islam. 

The Malcolm X foundation has an 11 acre plot of land which was previously overgrown and used illegally as a dump.  Some different groups have come along to help clean it up, including UNO students and even a College Republicans group!  People are often seeking it out, just to visit.  It is a location which could be a destination for visitors to North Omaha.  Sharif is more of a community builder than a monument builder though, and said that in some ways he would rather spend donor money on community projects for teens rather than a statue, but he realizes that there is some desire from visitors to have something more substantial at the site itself.  Sharif has a lot of knowledge, and his wife has a strong spirit and had some great things to add. People stuck around until close to 10 asking questions and learning more about Malcolm X and the work Sharif is doing. We were fortunate to have them with us on our porch, and hopefully we will be able to work with them on projects in their neighborhood in the future.  Here are some pictures of the Malcolm X birthsite, which is on the north side of Adams Park off of Bedford St.:

asm_IMG_1401asm_IMG_1402asm_IMG_1406asm_IMG_1407asm_IMG_1404from the westasm_IMG_1403

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Lukewarm Christianity and the Free Churches of St. Soren*

st john“…because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (revelation 3)

Free Churches are doubly protestant. Of course we know Lutherans protested against the Roman Catholic church, but Free Churches protested against the State Lutheran churches in Scandanavia. The were ‘free’ from the state. Kierkegaard* was a Danish thinker in the 1800’s who wrote a lot about this. The problem was that the state church in these countries was the only ‘show in town’. To be a Danish citizen, for example, you needed to be baptized your first week of birth. So if someone said, “are you Danish?” and you said “yes” and then they asked “are you Christian?” you would have said “I was baptized into the church to be a Danish Citizen!!” so by default in one sense all the Danes were Christian, by no choice of their own. Now Kierkegaard said that was crazy. You have to personally decide for yourself such things. Someone else cannot decide for you that you believe that the infinite (God) became finite (in Jesus) and one man died so that all might be saved– on any economy or logic of thought this is a pretty dramatic belief! And its very weighty–

You might have someone decide for you if you should get sprinkles on your ice cream, or where you will eat for dinner, but few of us would have someone else decide for us if we should get married, or what to name our child, or whether or not to take a job. The decision of whether or not to believe in God, and to believe that Jesus is God incarnate is an even more weighty decision though, and something that the individual needs to decide for herself.

So Kierkegaard (his name literally means “church-yard”) said that the religious decision is much like Abrahams decision to sacrifice his son Issaac– it was a decision he had to make, and it was one which in some sense others wouldn’t entirely understand. He couldn’t tell his wife about it really. If he’d asked his priest if he should listen to God’s order to sacrifice his son, his priest would likely have counseled against it. So faith is this spot where we have to decide for ourselves if we are being drawn towards God, and if we will commit our lives. No one else can make that decision for us. We may be wrong.

It might be that this Christianity is not true, not real. Maybe I should have been of another faith, or not gotten suckered in. Thats a question I have to sleep with each night, and live with each day– the question of whether or not I’m living my life rightly. Is this the right decision?

And for Kierkegaard, its important to realize the gravity of this decision. We like to avoid looking it in the face, because its scary to think we could be wrong. But once we look it in the face, and decide what we believe and where we stand, then it is more likely we will live our lives with authenticity. If we are going to believe that the infinite became finite in Christ to save the world, then you’d better decide to live like that– otherwise, whats the point? In the last book of the Bible– Revelation, St. John thows out a pretty strong challenge to Christians in chapter 3:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

That passage is pretty famous. Just a few verses earlier there is this challenging passage as well though:

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”

Heidegger, one of my favorite German philosophers, said in his commentary on Thessalonians that Christianity is intense because it has this belief that Jesus might return at any time– you are constantly on knifes edge preparing for his return, and trying to live your life accordingly. It is an apparently exhausting constant intensity. But this is what Kierkegaard calls us too as well– a consistently authentically lived Christian life: If you are going to be a Christian, then do it! If you aren’t, then quit playing games and just admit that you are a practicing atheist! This is hard, because I see the atheism in my life– how I live my life at times as though God does not exist.

Thank God for grace and mercy– thats what I always come back to. I am thankful for grace and mercy, but I never want to let it lull me into a complacency which allows me to be distracted from an authentically live Christian life. Don’t waste it. Don’t be lukewarm spit…st john

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*I have always thought it would be great to have a church called the church of st soren– soren was kierkegaard’s first name.  But it would drive him crazy to call him a st. first of all, and he was not into saints and all that sort of higher organization of churches.   It would also be ironic because usually its the Lutheran or Roman Catholic churches which would have churches named after saints, and Kierkegaard was far from that…