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Someone once said, “Life is what happens after someone makes plans for their life.” Proverbs says it more succinctly, “In their hearts, human beings plan their course, but the Lord determines their steps.” (Prov. 16:9, TNIV) Interestingly, what individual Christians plan and how the Lord directs them are not necessarily the same. Read more
Imagine a medium-sized room filled with high school boys and girls. You sit with your friends laughing and joking, discussing the week while the band sets up their equipment. Welcome to high school youth group. Tonight’s message: modesty. The boys are escorted off to another room for this conversation—modesty is an issue for women. This captive audience of young women listens as their youth pastor outlines why and how a girl should be modest. Read more
Anna and I met when we were students at Beeson Divinity School. From almost our first meeting I was drawn to her sharp mind, her sensitivity, her sense of humor, and, I might add, her striking beauty. Both of us were, at that time, considering careers in the academy. Anna had served two churches, one mainline and one evangelical, as a lay youth minister before seminary. She had altered her vocational path, however, largely owing to the influence of the conservative Presbyterian denomination of which we were a part. She now had set her sights on a doctorate and the academy—a place she rightly identified as more congenial to women. We were both evangelical, both soft patriarchs, and both interested in the life of the mind. It was a match made in heaven. Read more
When Bob Dylan sang “the times they are a-changin’,” he wasn’t kidding. Recently I glanced over at my seventeen-year-old son doing his homework. While he was online doing research for a paper, he was also instant messaging four of his friends-all of this while listening to his iPod and typing words into his research paper. He explained to me that he’s able to work better when he has a lot of stuff going on. It helps his concentration. What a contrast from the time I got irritated at the librarian at the University of Northern Iowa for whispering too loudly while I worked on a research paper. The times they are a-changin’. Read more
I am a lifelong evangelical; in the womb I kicked out praises, in grade school I memorized hundreds of verses, and in high school I worked for my church’s youth programs. One summer the church pastor (male by theological necessity) called a meeting of our staff: a female director, five female high schoolers and one male high schooler. The pastor informed us that while our positions were identical—summer staff—the boy would be paid more than the girls because he was the only male. “He’ll be working harder, because he’ll have to mentor all the boys,” is what I remember the pastor saying. The amount of money was trivial, but the message was enormous.    Read more
I am a fervent patron of the “chick flick;” don’t get me wrong. These films offer a specific promise that my sensibilities won’t be rocked, that the experience will be safe. Before settling into my sunken movie seat, with compressed popcorn blooms held fast, I know how it’s going to end: gratifyingly gushy. Yet at the same time, I know it is going to reiterate the fixed roles that men and women supposedly ought to play in finding true love. I know it is going to showcase the specific gender identities for which the chick flick genre is known. Typically, the man is the one to realize his failings, atone for his sins, and recoup the relationship before it’s too late. Ideally, the woman indulges his appeals, quickly mounts his contemporary stallion, and rides off into dusk to be with him forever. Read more
It is rare to encounter people in the United States who understand what I do. “You’re an anthropologist?” They say. “How interesting! Is that like Indiana Jones or more like Jurassic Park?” I exaggerate (a bit), but anthropology is not a widely understood discipline in this country. I would also say, based on my highly unscientific study, that it is even less understood in the church. Anthropology’s traditional anti-missionary bias, combined with a general distrust of “-ologies” of various sorts, has led anthropology to be a weak voice in U.S. Christianity. Read more
Imagine yourself a teenage girl, strolling through your local Christian book store, when a small book that sounds too good to be true catches your eye. Someone actually wrote a book that claims to expose the workings of teenage guys? “It’s the inside scoop you’ve been waiting for! You’ll come to not only understand him, but also know what he might really be thinking about you,” the back cover reads.  Read more
Recently, I’ve been trying to picture Jesus. Really picture him. Not just slide into a lazy picture of the Jesus in countless religious storefronts on Mission Street. Moving beyond a plump, fed on mac-and-cheese Jesus, I ask him, “Do you know what it’s like to be me?  Do you know what it’s like to be Japanese American? And if you do, do you have any changes you’d like to make regarding your commands?” I ask because I find some of Jesus’ words hard and culturally insensitive. Did the command to leave family and fields for the sake of the gospel refer to Asian families, too? Does the suggestion to serve others and take the lowest spot apply when it seems that we often start with the lowest seat—or no seat—at the table? Read more
In January 1941, the Archbishop of York hosted a conference on “The Life of the Church and the Order of Society,” and over 220 people attended. About three-fourths were men—mostly bishops and other clergy. Women who were identified with organizations were “head deaconesses” or in charge of women’s schools or committees in churches and government agencies. Nine men spoke—more clergy, plus some academics and writer T.S. Eliot. And then there was the tenth speaker: “Miss Dorothy Sayers.”  Read more

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