What Is the Role of the Pastor's Wife? Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2

A Word of Personal Testimony

How I thank God for godly men who surround me in the church I shepherd and are appropriately vigilant in their protection of my wife. This is nothing other than the grace of God. They concern themselves to protect her against unwarranted expectations and consistently encourage her in the use of her gifts—which only heightens her enthusiasm for ministry. I marvel at the energies she expends in the cause of Christ. But I also smile as I see her doing what she loves to do, and to see a church leadership that encourages her at every turn.

Beth was only twenty-five years old when I accepted the call to pastor the church we serve to this day. She was a godly woman, mature beyond her years. But Beth was the polar opposite of the previous pastor’s wife. Upon assuming leadership of the church, I had a difficult choice to make. I could encourage Beth to assume the various functions of the previous pastor’s wife, or I could loose Beth to use her unique abilities to the glory of God—most of which are behind-the-scenes type of gifts. Convinced the latter approach had the smile of God, I purposefully resisted asking anyone what the previous pastor’s wife did and steered Beth to “do her thing.” Not everyone appreciated my approach. Read more about What Is the Role of the Pastor's Wife? Part 3

Book Review - Just How Married Do You Want to Be?

Paperback, 178 pages
IVP Books (September 2008)
ISBN-10: 0830833935
ISBN-13: 978-0830833931

Jim and Sarah Sumner knew from the start of their relationship that they were an unlikely match. A former male stripper and the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School were just not meant to be together—or so many people thought. But twelve years (and many counseling sessions) later, Jim and Sarah are still married, minister beside each other, and have recently released a book together. Just How Married Do You Want to Be? is the theology and story of how they’re overcoming massive differences to become one in Christ.

As the subtitle, “Practicing Oneness in Marriage,” suggests, their book aims to move beyond the classic stereotypes that characterize most Christian marriages. Instead of discussing gender roles within marriage, the Sumners focus on the biblical concept of “one flesh” union and its resulting implications. This approach allows them to attempt a middle road between the complementarian/egalitarian debate that has been raging in broader evangelicalism.

Theological Shift

Because the Sumners are attempting to establish what they term a “new paradigm,” a significant portion of the book is given to a theological overview of the concept of headship, especially as it is expressed in the head/body metaphor of Ephesians 5:22-33. In these chapters, they contribute an interesting, if somewhat novel, perspective to the current discussion. Rather than emphasizing hierarchy, the Sumners argue that the headship imagery of Ephesians 5 is primarily teaching the intrinsic “oneness” of a married couple. Read more about Book Review - Just How Married Do You Want to Be?

Fundamentalism: Whence? Where? Whither? Part 4


Fundamentalism and Populism

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Prior to Thomas Reid and Scottish Common Sense Realism, people typically recognized a distinction between appearances (whether understood as perceptions, phenomena, or, in Locke’s case, ideas) and reality. From antiquity until the late Middle Ages, this distinction had produced two effects upon the way that most people thought about reality. First, they reckoned that whatever reality they encountered had to be interpreted—and not everyone was in an equally good position to do the interpreting. Second, they believed that reality possessed dimensions of meaning or significance that stretched well beyond sensory awareness. Grasping those levels of meaning was also something that not everyone was equally qualified to do.

Common Sense Realists denied the distinction between appearance and reality. They insisted that perceiving subjects have direct and unmediated access to reality itself. Consequently, reality does not need to be interpreted—it is as it appears to be. This move had the effect of placing every person on an equal footing for understanding any aspect of reality.

As presented by people like Reid and Dugald Stewart, Common Sense Realism was a responsible if misguided academic option. Ironically, however, many of the people who appropriated and applied Reid’s conclusions would not have been capable of understanding his arguments. Chief among them were Americans.

Even before Reid, Americans had begun to affirm the competence of the ordinary person in all matters. This perspective is called populism. The harshness of the American frontier and the necessity of individual accomplishment tended to negate aristocratic influences. The sense that they were starting anew gave Americans an antipathy toward traditions. The arrival of Common Sense Realism confirmed the populist prejudice and opened the throttle for its acceleration. This process continued throughout the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian periods. Read more about Fundamentalism: Whence? Where? Whither? Part 4

What Is the Role of the Pastor's Wife? Part 2

Read Part 1

Proposition #2: Her ministry responsibilities within the assembly are of the same nature as those of every other woman in the church.

I believe sufficient light shines from at least two passages of Scripture to confirm this proposition.

Older women … are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Tit. 2:3-5).

Paul’s admonition indicates that the task of the pastor’s wife, even when viewed from the context of the local church, is to grow in godly character and to cultivate a proper relationship with her husband and children. As regards teaching in the assembly, she is to be encouraged to instruct the younger women. But interestingly enough, this particular admonition from Paul indicates that the young pastor should perceive his wife as a student of the older women in the church before she qualifies as a teacher of adult women.

Yet, sadly, it is not unprecedented for a twenty-five-year-old woman to be immediately collared with the responsibility to serve as primary teacher of, and counselor to, the women of her church or even for her husband to resent the fact that a much older woman in the assembly does not willingly yield this position to the pastor’s wife. Although no one would even think to entrust such a responsibility to any other woman of similar age, this great expectation is placed upon her by mere virtue of the fact that she is married to the pastor. We should recognize, vis-a-vis the common practice, that it is not at all wrong for the younger pastor’s wife to enter the church as a learner. In fact, Paul’s instructions to Titus seem to assume this for the case of a young pastor’s wife. The women of the church should seek her counsel and encourage her instruction because they have come over time to discern that she is a wise woman, not merely because she is married to the pastor. Read more about What Is the Role of the Pastor's Wife? Part 2

Planting Urban Churches

Two Fundamental Questions

Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to meet young men preparing to plant urban churches. Many of their primary supporting and sending churches have great ministries, mostly in suburban or rural areas. Suits and ties are still de rigueur, morning and evening Sunday services with Wednesday night prayer meeting is the established pattern, the doctrinal statements exhibit great precision, and music is traditional. Personal separation issues and traditional taboos often prevent church members from having meaningful relationships with people outside the church. These are observations gathered in discussions and not meant as criticisms. As a matter of fact these churches often have effective ministries with Christians although they see few non-Christians coming to Christ. The churches have been built and have grown primarily by adding Christians who left cities or who moved into the area.

These churches have established niche ministries ministering to Christians. In other words these churches have their place in the world and God uses them, though many are stuck in expressions of cultural Christianity which rarely engage non-Christians. Read more about Planting Urban Churches

What Is the Role of the Pastor's Wife? Part 1

What Is a Pastor’s Wife Supposed to Do?

Shepherding the flock of God can prove one of the most exciting, enriching, and satisfying duties a man can undertake on this side of heaven. Yet shepherding the flock of God is not a particularly safe enterprise. It is a life-work that exposes the man of God to a multiplicity of trials, deep disappointments, searing heartaches, and haunting questions from within and without.

The pastor serves God’s people as leader, preacher, teacher, counselor, overseer and chief intercessor. He must perform spiritual surgery and apply healing balm to the souls of his people on a daily basis. And in all of this, the undershepherd bears the unrelenting burden of his accountability to the Lord of the universe for the spiritual watchcare of a flock for whom the Good Shepherd laid down His own life.

Brothers, we are not sufficient for these things, and we know it. A proud pastor is an oxymoron—or a moronic ox, if you will. None of us is either worthy or capable of such an undertaking. But God is rich in mercy. Jesus has sent the Comforter to aid us in our frailty—to counsel, encourage, strengthen and help us in the great cause to which we have been called. And for most pastors, God also graciously provides a human helper—a woman—to walk at her husband’s side as his covenant helper in this grand mission to exercise stewardship of God’s flock.

The pastor’s wife is certainly a rare species with a very peculiar calling. She is one flesh with the pastor. And if he is worthy of the title, this means she is one flesh with a difficult man. If she is worthy of her calling, it also means she has laid down the “normal life” on the altar and slit its throat in sacrifice to God. Read more about What Is the Role of the Pastor's Wife? Part 1

Just a Few Days Left

Fund drive ends on Friday

As of this writing, about three dozen of you have chipped in to help cover SharperIron’s server and bandwidth costs for 2009 (more info here). A few contributed especially large gifts. You know who you are (though, in some cases, I’m not sure I know who you are). Whether your donation was large or small, I—and all who benefit from SI—thank you for your help! Read more about Just a Few Days Left

Fundamentalism: Whence? Where? Whither? Part 3


Fundamentalism Common Sense

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

By definition, Fundamentalism does not concern itself with the whole counsel of God. As the name implies, it concerns itself with fundamentals, i.e., with those matters that are essential to the bare existence of Christianity. Fundamentalists may, and many Fundamentalists actually do, go beyond this limited concern. When they do so, however, they are no longer acting merely as Fundamentalists, but as Fundamentalists who also happen to be something else.

On one hand, as an actual, historical movement, Fundamentalism has often tended to settle for an abbreviated form of Christianity. Though clear exceptions exist, it has often sacrificed doctrinal breadth and detail. On the other hand, Fundamentalism has also tended to add elements that are not necessary to any form of biblical Christianity. Over the next few essays, I wish to explore three of these additions: Common Sense Realism, populism, and sentimentalism.

Common Sense Realism was a reaction to and development of Enlightenment philosophy. It was articulated by Thomas Reid of Aberdeen (later Glasgow) and sold to the philosophical world by Dugald Stewart of Edinburgh. A relatively late development, Common Sense Realism represented an attempt to circumvent several philosophical impasses. Continental rationalism had never been able to move convincingly beyond solipsism. British empiricism had led to the subjective idealism of Berkeley and the skepticism of Hume.

Reid hoped to get past these problems by grounding knowledge in a core of self-evident common sense. Where earlier thinkers had distinguished appearance from reality, Reid posited that people perceive reality directly. Normally, perceptions can be relied upon as accurate and trustworthy. For Common Sense Realism, reality is transparently available to the perceiving subject. Read more about Fundamentalism: Whence? Where? Whither? Part 3