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In the late 1970s, I first came across the claim that within the Trinity the Son is functionally subordinate to the Father.1 I had been taught—and still believe—that the Father and the Son are equal. Period. This counterclaim challenged that assumption and planted a question in my mind. For the most part, I put the question aside for many years. I had my hands full as a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, and part-time student at our community college. My general attitude toward the doctrine of the Trinity during those years could be summed up in Carl Henry’s rhetorical question: “Is the doctrine of the Trinity a futile intellectual effort to resolve inherently contradictory notions of divine unity and divine plurality? Are orthodox evangelicals driven to say that anyone who rejects this doctrine may lose his soul whereas anyone who tries to explain it will lose his mind?”2 I did not get it, and I did not have time to think about it. Nevertheless, a question had been planted, and although it went underground for many years, it never quite went away. As is often true in such cases, when the question reappeared later, it was not with a vengeance exactly, but certainly with renewed urgency. It became the focus of my doctoral dissertation and the topic of my book, Women, Men, and the Trinity.  Read more
One of the epiphanic moments of my faith came about in north Philadelphia at what had been Temple University’s theological school, redubbed Conwell School of Theology after Russell Conwell, the Civil War officer whose coming to Christian faith was profoundly influenced by a devout and devoted assistant, Johnny Ring. Johnny seemed a perfect candidate for the ministry when his life was abruptly cut off in “the war between brothers.” Severely wounded himself and left for dead for a night at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (Georgia), Conwell eventually embraced Johnny’s God.1 Years later, now a Baptist pastor, he was asked by a young deacon to teach him to preach and responded in the grand style, founding Temple College in Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” perhaps as much a tribute to the young believer Johnny Ring. Temple blossomed into the university with a theological seminary, the latter becoming independent and soon acquiring a new name, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, when Billy Graham brokered a merger with another seminary, Gordon Divinity School, which was also leaving its present campus. Read more
When I saw my cousin again, I had walked all day, my ankles swollen like my feet. Her bright eyes made my journey worth it. Read more
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women” (Acts 1:14). “They were all, with one accord, in one place” (Ch. 2:1). “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues” (Verse 4). “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (verses 16-17). “On my servants and on my handmaidens will I pour out in those days of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (v. 18). “Philip had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (ch. 21:9). “Every man praying or prophesying having his head covered dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head.” (I Cor. 11:4,5) “Desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” (I Cor. 14:1) “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (v. 3). “He that prophesieth edifieth the Church” (vs. 4).   Read more
Nineteenth-century England experienced a significant period of transition with cultural influences, reflected by Enlightenment thinking, shifting to include romantic tendencies. One of the growing evangelical developments that included the latter was the focus on the “deeper Christian life,” or the Keswick movement, which officially began in 1875. Jessie Penn-Lewis came to prominence in speaking, writing, and furthering this movement on an international basis. Her primary focus was on the impact of the cross in gaining victory over sin. Besides being a well-known woman teacher/preacher, she distinguished her mission further by putting in print her biblical rationale for her call to preach. The influence of her writing continues today, especially in the area of spiritual warfare. Read more
In 1664, a young Puritan minister named John Cotton Jr. was found guilty of “lascivious unclean practices with three women.”1 Mr. Cotton was a Harvard graduate, a descendant of well-respected parents, and a husband and father. As a punishment for his sinful deeds, English officials in Massachusetts forced Cotton to give up his pastorate of a local church. The question was, what could he do to support Joanna, his wife, and their children? Puritan leaders found the answer in an unlikely place: Martha’s Vineyard. For many years, members of the Mayhew family had labored as missionaries on the island, trying to teach local Indians about Christianity. The Mayhews needed help, and John Cotton Jr. was sufficiently qualified, in the eyes of the English at least, to preach to Indians. So, in 1666, John Cotton Jr. began a long missionary career on both Martha’s Vineyard and in the town of Plymouth. In many respects, his legacy lasted beyond his death, for his two sons, Josiah and Roland Cotton, preached to Indians in Massachusetts long after their father was gone.2 Other scholarly works have examined male members of the Cotton family and how they interacted with Native Americans.3 In this article, however, I wish to explore the experiences of Joanna Cotton, a wife and mother of missionaries in colonial America. In particular, I will explore the extent to which Joanna fell in line with expectations regarding gender roles in colonial New England. These roles typically involved a degree of female subordination to males. Read more
Sometimes obscured by the reputation of her mentor Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Clare was an innovator and hero of the faith in her own right. While initially inspired by the convictions and teaching of Francis, Clare went on to develop her own wisdom in interpreting the Franciscan life, as seen in the distinctive guidelines she wrote for living the monastic life. Her drive to live out her ideals led her into conflict with family and with popes. Read more
What we know of Nympha as a person springs primarily from two small verses written by Paul about AD 58 to 60: “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea” (Col 4:15–16). The quotation still leaves questions. We do not have a letter written at this stage either to or from Laodicea, though we do have John’s letter to Laodicean believers in his Revelation more than twenty years later (Rev 3:14–22). Today, Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (then a bustling Roman spa town because of its natural hot water springs and white silica terraces) are uninhabited ruins not far from one another in a broad valley. Tourists stay at modern Pamukkale down the slope from Hierapolis, where excavations reveal the Roman town. The modern museum in Hierapolis has many exhibits from Roman times, and modern tourists have stepped barefoot across the beautiful white silica terraces. Earthquakes have damaged the terraces, too. There was an earthquake in AD 60, perhaps shortly after the mention of Nympha in the letter to Colossae. Read more
If one were seeking nominations for a leadership position, Mary of Bethany, as judged by human criteria for leadership, would not likely be a person to get the nod. Faced with the death of her brother in John 11, she appears to be overcome by nearly catatonic sorrow. Upon approaching Jesus, she falls at his feet and mouths words identical to those with which her sister had greeted him moments before: “Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:32). Her more vocal sister is the one who takes command of the situation; Martha anticipates Jesus’ entry into the village and approaches him without waiting to be called. In the face of tragedy, she maintains the necessary composure to engage in a theological discussion that eventually results in Jesus’ “I am” statement. Martha’s confession is held up as the equivalent of Peter’s confession in the Synoptics and John’s purpose statement in 20:31. Likewise, in Luke 10:38–42, according to the traditional interpretation, no words come from Mary, apparently setting a positive example by her actions alone. Martha aggressively pursues Jesus for a solution to her sister’s absence and asks Jesus to intervene. Readers of both gospels may conflate the characterization of the sisters as they are portrayed in each book. If Martha is the outgoing and vocal sister in Luke, then that is the expected personality in John, and because Mary is visualized as silent in Luke, sitting passively at Jesus’ feet, she is characterized as the more devout of the two in John.1 If a reader is looking for a leader by drawing upon both Luke and John, again one can safely assume it would be Martha. Yet, Jesus twice commends Mary’s behavior (Luke 10:42; John 12:7). Consistently over many centuries of Christian interpretation, Mary is repeatedly held up as the sister to be emulated. What kind of example is Jesus extolling for women? Could it be possible that “silent leadership”—by actions only, but otherwise without voice or opinion—is the illustration of leadership that Jesus recommends for women and the best use of their gifts? After reading many commentaries, devotions, and sermons on Luke 10:38–42, I am particularly discomforted by conclusions that set the sisters against each other with the eventual “good and bad” result. The lesson taught is invariably, “Be more like Mary and less like Martha.” One woman is raised up at the expense of the other. These results are then inevitably carried over into the sisters’ appearance in John 11, but are rarely examined in the haste to get to the miraculous sign: the raising of Lazarus. The story seems to be about the male characters, with the sisters’ roles barely noticed, unless it is to point out again, “Mary got it right.” Many such dissonances launched a journey that resulted in my writing on the identity of Mary of Bethany. I started my research with particular interest in uncovering any additional information about who she was and her behavior that Jesus actually commended. This topic was narrowed down to study specifically her narrative function through the lens of narrative criticism. My journey to uncover the mystery of Mary led to the discovery of two leaders, both approved and promoted by Jesus. Can leadership be found in surprising places, in unlikely humans (female), hidden in the shadow of a more momentous event? I will pursue the premise that Jesus commissioned both sisters to demonstrate equally valid and essential leadership to make the result of his final sign most effective. The sisters together are ministering to different “flocks,” demonstrating “good and good.” Together, they make access to Jesus’ greatest statements of his identity available to the maximum possible number of followers. To begin, if we strip away the “sister versus sister” preconception brought by earlier interpreters to the study of both Luke and John, whole new lessons begin to emerge. There are several subtle hints in John’s text of more taking place in their individual interactions with Jesus than was immediately apparent. The main tool I am applying to the text is narrative criticism, also known as literary criticism, which focuses on a close reading of the surface structure of a text. R. Alan Culpepper notes that narrative criticism is an inductive method where the interpreter works from observation of the text being studied.2 This criticism was adapted to the study of biblical texts from the secular study of literature. Narrative criticism addresses the literary devices used by the author to create the desired effect on the reader.3 The critic looks at the unified text in its final form and reads holistically.4 Of particular interest in this narrative are plot, timing, movement, theme, motifs, repetition, and development of characters.   Read more
Writing a commentary on one book of the Bible is a serious responsibility—not to mention three books. So, when Aída, my wife, was given that opportunity, we shook out our savings from under every mattress, so as to say, and the whole family went to the island of Crete where Paul sent Titus so long ago to nurture the fledgling church. Our son Steve, who is in media productions, took 1,400 pictures and did the driving. I edited what Aída had written so far on her manuscript (which was considerable) while she took copious notes on what she needed in each spot to enlighten more obscure parts of the texts of the pastorals. We had our team. Read more

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