Search Results for: Theology

coffeehouse theology


Coffeehouse Theology-Reflecting on God in Everyday Life

Sadly, I’m still working my way through this title. It’s taking me awhile, not because I don’t like it-I actually like it a lot-but because of time. But I thought I would go ahead and mention it at my blog. As the title suggests, this book is about theology.

And as I’ve recently learned-I’m a theologian. Or at least according to my friend Adam.

Adam is a pastor, and I don’t hold that against him. In fact, I pretty much look forward to having conversations with him. Not only is he one of the most intelligent people I know, every time I have a conversation with Adam I leave encouraged, hopeful, and more comfortable in my own skin.

One time, during one of our many discussions about God, he told me that it was his belief that everybody is a theologian. “All of us have the ability to think about and study God,” he told me once. “You don’t need a degree to do that.”

I believe author Ed Cyzewski would agree with Adam. In his book, Coffeehouse Theology, Ed invites everyone into a theology discussion, one that blends story, study, topics, and critical thought into a well-crafted, though not too crafted, conversations about God and the things he’s passionate about. Coffeehouse isn’t a difficult read, not like many theology books, and unlike those other books, Ed doesn’t write with a heavy hand and beat his readers over the head with his point of view. He simply let’s you join his journey of experiencing the many sides of a particular theological discussion, offering pertinent information, explanation, and a few theories, but ultimately let’s the reader form his or her own opinions and thoughts. I think that’s what makes this book such an important read for the church. While I didn’t agree with everything stated within these pages, topics are presented with grace and humility, so I’m pretty sure anybody can read without getting hurt. Also, big thumbs up to the person who designed the cover of this book–quite trendy.

Buy it @ Amazon.com…

20 Problems with Progressive Christianity…

I’m a progressive Christian (or I think I am), though I’m not sure I’ve ever uttered that sentence aloud. That’s not because I’m ashamed of the label, but more or less because nobody seems to define “progressive Christian” the same way. (<-That’s problem number 1).

That’s partly because “progressive” is a vague term in today’s culture, nearly as vague as the word “Christian.” It’s no wonder the combo of the two make for a less than definitive idea. (<-Problem number 2?)

However, despite America’s progressive Christianity being undefined (Is it a movement? Is it organized? Is there any unity whatsoever?), a growing number of believers—many of whom are Christians who grew up in conservative churches/denominations—are still choosing to wear the  label. That said, nobody who comes from conservative backgrounds jumps into faith-based progressivism headfirst. While not all progressive churchgoers are former conservative Christians or disenfranchised evangelicals, many indeed are coming from those backgrounds with a myriad of expectations, disillusions, frustrations, hopes, etc. And chances are, for a majority of those onetime fundamentalists or evangelicals, their journeys toward progressive Christianity evolved over many years and often started out of a place of spiritual pain or spiritual doubt or spiritual disenchantment. For them, “Progressive Christian” is a label they approach cautiously and slowly, often wading into their new realities/understandings with far more uncertainty than faith. (<-Problem number 3? That depends.)

Personally, I began embracing the progressive term mostly because other people labeled me as such. Though I’m fairly outside the evangelical box with my theology, I don’t attend a progressive church and many of my best friends are self-identifying conservative or moderate evangelicals. It wasn’t until 2, maybe 3, years ago that I started owning the label to some degree, though I confess, sometimes I do so with much trepidation. Why? For several reasons: Labels frustrate me. Sure, I see their necessity and often use labels and/or stereotypes in my own writing, I also find them to be somewhat unhelpful, suffocating, and limiting in the real world. Moreover, as I mentioned, “progressive” is such an indistinct term with a multitude of variables that owning the label doesn’t “define” me as much as it puts me in a corner with a host of other wonderful and complicated believers/thinkers who (<-Here’s problem number 4->) often have many of their own issues with the label/concept.

However, in my owning of the label and becoming mostly comfortable in this skin, I’ve certainly become privy to many of Progressive Christianity’s shortcomings, especially as they relate to those of us who haven’t always been “progressive” in our spirituality. (I somehow missed problem number 5.)

For example, many of us have a cumbersome relationship with scripture. (<-Problem number 6) Am I allowed to say that? Yes, suggesting that many of us have complicated relationships with scripture might give some people a reason to pounce on us even more than they do (or perhaps discount us altogether), but let’s face it: many of us (not all of us) are a bit clumsy when it comes to scripture.

Now, it’s not that we don’t love scripture, we do love it. We just also hate it sometimes, at least parts of it. Often our odd relationships with the Bible are because we come from experiences where chapter and verse was/is the beginning and the end of God and many of us had that view of God memorized by the time we hit puberty. (<-Problem number 7.) Which isn’t our fault, of course; but for many of us, our history with God’s Word has caused us to become less-than-passionate about using scripture to prove our new, more progressive, points/ideas/theories. Why?
Well, for several reasons perhaps.

1) Because many of us likely know how to prove the opposing view with scripture as well or better than we can prove our current view.

2) Because some of us are uncertain (or fearfully certain) of where to begin or how to prove our current views using scripture.

3) Because a few of us are somewhat unconvinced that “progressive theology” can actually be found in the biblical narrative.

4) Because it’s much easier to just use scripture as a tool against conservative ideas (our old way of thinking) than it is to use it to build up and/or support our new understanding. (<-Problem number 8.)

And trust me (<-Here’s problem number 9->), I get it; going from thinking about the Bible in that literal spoken from the mouth of God and using it as a weapon sense to thinking about the Bible in that non-literal, biblical narrative—part history, part allegory, part inconclusive riddle but always inspired—sense is a difficult journey for most of us. Yes, we believe scripture is “inspired,” but we don’t know exactly what that means, at least, not like we once did. Now, though we often say it’s inspired, how “inspired” impacts our understanding of the Book of Judges and whether or not that story in the Book of Judges about a woman getting cut up into 12 pieces and sent as gifts to the 12 Tribes says anything true about God is another thing altogether.

A part of the bigger problem is that it’s easy for many of us onetime conservatives/now progressives to get caught up in our faith being defined by our past as opposed to it being inspired by what’s in front of us (<-Problem number 10). In other words, many of us know exactly what we believe to be true and untrue about the churches we grew up in, the theologies that we were taught, and the perceptions of God that we once worshiped. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing what we believe to be good and true about our pasts. But sometimes we fall onto the path of getting so lost in fighting the ills of our former spiritual lives that we go for long periods of time when that’s all our faith is, one big fight against what was. (Now, for some of us, I think that’s exactly where we need to be. Because the freedom to be angry is a part of the journey.)

But some of us linger there because we are so uncomfortable engaging God with questions and doubt (<-Problem number 11). In many ways, we don’t know how to engage God without belief squarely intact (<-Problem number 11.5), so we instead become consumed by our own certainty about other people’s certainty. And there’s a time and place for that! But for many, engaging in spiritual wars (usually online) become the most visible, worked-out part of our faiths. Our Christianities become seemingly void of belief or hope or even questions and doubt and instead, most known for a mostly clumsy presentation of angst (<-Problem number 12).

And again, I get it. I really do. Angst, in the right context, is a beautiful thing. But sometimes it seems that’s all our faith is—angst against what was. I’m constantly struggling with this. Because on one hand I do want to use my voice and influence to speak up for those who have been silenced by the sometimes harsh certainty of evangelical, reformed, and fundamentalist doctrines—and I will continue to do that because speaking up for somebody else is a whole other thing—but when the fight is only personal, bursting out from the unresolved issues we have with our former selves, it’s easy to begin mistaking those fights as elements of faith(<-Problem number 13). I’ve learned (and am still learning) that I can’t hand my fights down to my kids and expect them to want to engage God. I can’t inspire belief and hope and mystery with only personal angst toward my past. (Problem number 14->) If our progressive faiths are going to be more than simply labels or responses to our pasts then we must become comfortable engaging the story of God without the lens of our former spiritual ideas. We must accept that it’s far more difficult to pursue God’s story with doubt, questions, and little bit of hope than it is with certainty and doctrine. But we must, if we want to be happy and content and continue on something of a Christian path, take the difficult path, relearn how to believe without certainty, and allow grace to fill in a few of the cracks. Because if our past faith is the defining factor in our current faith, is that really faith? I think that’s a question we must answer ourselves, in our own time.

For many of us, the journey out of angst includes learning the art of critiquing/questioning the Church. Progressive Christians have always been fantastic critics (<-Problem number 16? Sometimes. But not always.). In fact, here in America, it was often because of progressive believers that change in America’s Church became possible, that abuses by churches and ministries were challenged, that hate and intolerance amid the culture was uncovered and remedied. They made mistakes and weren’t always friendly. But sometimes, the sins that the Church commits in God’s name demand to be confronted by unfriendly voices. So all of us should thank God for good critics. We need critics. But the one bigger difference about many progressive voices from our history and many of the progressive voices of today is that the best progressive thinkers of our country’s past learned the art of balancing the breaking of things down and the calling of wrongs out with the creation of ideas, theologies, new ways of thinking, and hopes, inspiration that helped in the pursuit of reframing faith, rebuilding churches, and reconnecting people to the stories of God. (Problem number 17->) Many of us (me included!) are terrible at that balance. Some of us aren’t even looking for the balance.

Again, this isn’t true for every progressive voice. Some people are indeed balancing their fight against the establishment with truths and ideas for reconstruction. But finding the footing or foundation to be both good critics as well as good inspirers is difficult for many of us. (Problem number 18->) Some of us are so busy sharpening our skills as critics that even if our voices do inspire change, we often miss the opportunities that come along to be a part of what happens—the rebuild—after the change (<-Problem number 18.5) Why?

Because we’ll be tempted to find something new that’s broken to critique.

Because at the end of the day, though many of us truly want to help to build something authentic, something new, something believable, something hopeful, something good, many of us still don’t know what that something is… which pays tribute to that earlier point that progressive Christianity is vague and undefined.

Because again, progressives are fantastic critics—needed critics! However, their talent for critiquing the ills of the Church or the sins of the “other side” are only outdone by their seemingly limitless ability to eat up their own kind without a second thought. It’s kind of shocking to behold actually. But progressive Christians jumping on other progressive Christians over the tiniest differences is disheartening. I’ve watched Christians who support equality lash out at other Christians who support equality. I’ve witnessed Christian feminists hating on other Christian feminists. And that’s just the beginning. Many of us are just spectators to these wars, and while we don’t get involved too often, the interactions silence us. Why? Because we’re afraid of our own kind (<-Problem number 19). Yes. It’s true. I think THIS is one of the biggest problems in the progressive Christian culture and why so few new ideas come out of this trend/movement: Because it seems there’s so little grace for mistakes or for being wrong or for being not completely right… And so many progressives become so intoxicated by their own “pet issues” (ideas that most inspire them or interest them) that speaking into that issue is to risk getting attacked socially online by that individual and their friends…. somebody who fights poverty but doesn’t fight poverty the way one person or group thinks it should be fought, they are ridiculed with rage online. Or somebody who speaks out against our country’s racial inequality but either doesn’t do it exactly the way a person/group thinks it should be done or isn’t the kind of person that a person/group thinks they should be, they get vehemently attacked. And I could go on and on. Which is why I think progressive Christianity remains so vague, so undefined. It’s not conservative theologians that limit us. We are far more limited by those with whom we agree with 99 percent of time (<-Problem number 20).

And I believe we can do better. But we need to pick up the mirror. And take a long look.

 

 

 

 

 

9 Hopeful Signs That Christian Music isn’t Completely Dead

music_notes_MPT

Much about the Christian music scene has been depressing in recent years. Mainly because there really isn’t a “Christian music scene” per se. Not really. Not like the scene that I encountered in 1996. And honestly, that’s probably a good thing. That scene was a bit crazy, self-involved, and had little to do with Jesus.

When I was working at CCM magazine, the writing on the wall became rather clear. Christian music was dying. The reasons why that’s true vary according to who you talk to. My opinion? Worship music killed Christian music. The worship music movement slowly, over time, suffocated the true creatives out of record deals, pushing them to the fringes of the music scene to fend for themselves. It wasn’t personal. It was business. Christian radio started limiting their playlists to include artists like Chris Tomlin, Mercy Me, and Casting Crowns. And while they might be nice people with good voices, their music is safe for the whole family. And nothing stifles a creative scene like safety. And for a long while, there’s been a serious lack of good spiritual music coming out of Nashville. Sure, there have been a record here and there… but nothing that seemed to suggest a true revival might be happening.

Some people think that the Christian music scene is pointless anyway. I disagree. While some Christian music is downright dreadful, Christian music gave me a lot of hope when I was a kid trapped in Christian fundamentalism. From my world, Christian music was a window to an outside world, a place where Jesus still had issues but nothing like the issues he had in my world. Christian music opened my eyes to different ways of thinking. It pushed me to explore theology. It challenged my worldview. It caused me to feel God’s presence in a way that I wasn’t accustomed to… Christian music isn’t perfect. And at times, it’s downright awful. However, it also created an environment that allowed me to be introduced to artists and songs that helped me believe that Jesus was bigger and more gracious and more hopeful than what I’d been taught for most of my life.

But Hillsong music isn’t going to do that. It might make me “feel” emotionally connected to God in the moment, it does not have the creative power or means to push minds and hearts to think and experience God differently. It doesn’t have the ability to create dialogue about theology, about culture, and about philosophy. And I’m sorry, Jesus Culture isn’t going to make music that spearheads anything more than fairy dust and goosebumps. But a true artist who’s passionate about life and faith and art and truth can cause you to not only think outside your comfortable box but experience worship at the same time.

But signs of hope might be on the horizon. There’s a handful of artists, songs, and rumors about artists and songs that make me wonder if there’s a springtime coming for music about faith and spirituality. While there’s no guarantee, here are few reasons why I think a new birth of creativity might be happening Christian music…

1) John Mark McMillan’s “Borderland”

That’s just the first single. The whole album is an amazing collection of intricately constructed songs. Click the picture below to view the record at Amazon.

2) Ellie Holcomb “As Sure As the Sun”

Holcomb’s “As Sure As the Sun” is a hopeful collection of melodies and words, a bright collection that’s filled with mystery and production intricacies. Listen to more at Amazon.

3) Shawn McDonald’s new song “We Are Brave”

You can sample it here. It will be a little too pop for some, but it’s so dang catchy. Definitely give it a listen.

4) Jars of Clay “Inlandia”

Yes, it’s Jars of Clay. And they’ve been around for 20+ years. But a bright path can’t all be spearheaded by newly discovered talent, some of it must come from longtime musicians and artists. And with this remix EP of their record “Inland,” Jars of Clay showcases they’re amazing ability to evolve with age (Check out the record at iTunes.

5) Sarah Masen’s “Trying Mark”
seed_paper_trying_mark

One of Nashville’s most poetic storytellers finally released some new music last year. If you’re not familiar with Sarah Masen’s previous efforts, check out these two songs: Carry Us Through and one of the best songs about faith ever written, Wrap My Arms Around Your Name (listen below).

You can download Sarah’s newest songs at NoiseTrade for free…

6) And Nichole Nordeman is rumored to be working on new music. And that is good news indeed. Nobody writes songs about God and faith like Nichole. If you need reminding, listen to “Hold On” from her 2005 record “Brave”:

Other bright signs…

-Gungor’s “I Am Mountain”

-Brooke Fraser’s got new music coming soon.

-NEEDTOBREATHE’s new record releases next month

And again, these are just signs of a little creative life happening among Christians making music about God, life, faith…

How about you? Have any “signs” of your own?

Praise God from Whom All Evil and Suffering Flows?

The Christian music duo Shane & Shane sing a song called “Though You Slay Me,” a worship song about suffering which features an excerpt of a John Piper sermon. Though it’s been out for several months, I’d not heard the song before yesterday. And to be honest, the lyrics (some of which were borrowed from the Book of Job) troubled me.

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need.

Maybe I’m in a minority, but my spirit cringes when I hear those kinds of big statements about God, statements that make God out to be an abuser rather than a loving parent, a destroyer as opposed to a healer, an Almighty who slays, ruins, and tears apart as opposed to bringing new life. Now, it’s one thing to praise God through pain and suffering. That’s not easy to do. But as a person of faith, I do believe we can/do find healing and hope in suffering through gratitude. My grievance with this song is what it says about God. In these lyrics, God is a monstrous presence, a deity who is cruel and unusual, a Great Inflicter of pain… are there limits to what this so-called awesome God will do?

I understand that these same themes show up in the Book of Job. But Job, as book, is a complicated, and as a man, is complex. Some believe the story to be historical in nature; others suggest that it’s a grand allegory that sheds light on the relationship between God and people. Either way, Job is an uneasy biblical narrative that has befuddled wise people for thousands of years. And for good reason. That dialogue between God and Satan alone is filled up with complexities and details not easily understood as they relate to today. Do we really believe that every time somebody dies or gets cancer or loses everything that Satan and God have been wheeling and dealing? Are we supposed to assume that every time there’s a school shooting or a natural disaster that it’s an event spearheaded by God? Is that what we really think about God, that amid our human suffering, as we struggle through, seeking God’s light and healing, that we are also to assume that God is the author of our hopelessness? Is that what we’re supposed to believe?

And if so, are there any limits to this kind of God? I mean, if this God slays us and ruins us, does he also set up rapes? Does he schedule miscarriages? Murders? I mean, is God our hope and salvation or the disease-maker and/or terrorist?

Yes, I know what you might be thinking: But God allows suffering, suffering that God, if he wanted to, could stop. And yes, that is a confusing and complicated idea, that God allows suffering as opposed to stopping it from happening. But still, I think there’s a huge difference between finding reason to praise God through the mysteries and questions of human suffering and praising a God who purposely puts cancer in somebody’s body or demolishes a town with a tornado just because he needed a little glory that day.

While I don’t like to use human examples to portray concepts about God, many believers do it often. The most common example is that of a father who swoops in to rescue his child from danger. Many of us would praise that father, or at least, celebrate the rescue. But what if we found out that the child’s danger had been prearranged by the father, that the child’s rescue had been actually been grand scheme authored by the father so he could receive our praise. Most of us would say that’s sick and demented. And again, while no human example is good at explaining the complexities of God, that is what this song suggests. That is what Shane & Shane are singing about.

And yes, many believe that Book of Job suggests the same. But does that give us permission to assume that the story of Job is happening all the time? Is it wise for us to make these great assumptions about about every form or instance of human suffering. Do not genetics and habits and evil play a role? Doesn’t the Book of Job demand more than to be simply applied to our every struggle? Shouldn’t it at least be used with caution and mercy.

Because I’m all about praising God in and through all things. But I also believe that we should use a little grace, humility, and common sense when applying a 5000-year-old text to our circumstances, especially as it relates to making big seemingly ugly assumptions about God.

Do I understand every nuance and idea surrounding the ways of God and the realities of suffering? No, I don’t. And chances are, neither do you. And sometimes, rather than promoting our thoughts about God like they’re the gospel truth, the best theology one can offer is I don’t know.

Because in many cases, especially in circumstances involving suffering, we don’t know.

(You can listen to the entire song here and learn the story behind the song here.)

This is strange and awkward, even for Francis Chan

Francis Chan recently spoke at International House of Prayer (IHOP), the Kansas City church led by controversial minister, Mike Bickle. It doesn’t take too much searching on Google to discover that Bickle has made more than a few enemies in his day. And even if you dismiss the plethora of people whose personal interactions with Bickle and his ministry have been less than pleasant–heck, some are downright strange–there’s enough crazy in Bickle’s “theology” and “ministry” dealings to make the average believer approach with caution. There’s that terribly dark “vision” he had for America. He’s also quite connected to the Christian movement in Uganda, the same movement that helped create the intolerant laws against gays and lesbians in Uganda. And then there’s his cultish church, IHOP. And that’s just the tip of the IHOP iceberg. Like Chan says in his introduction, lots of people think Bickle is “creepy.”

And so not only does Chan ignore the drama and speak at IHOP (which is his right, of course), he begins his sermon with an over-the-top and very awkward public testament to how much he LOVES Mike Bickle. Chan has always had a somewhat quirky delivery, a seemingly earnest passion that just doesn’t always translate on video like it does live or in person. His expressiveness can often get in the way of what he’s really trying to say. (For instance, remember his book trailer for Erasing Hell?

Even if you don’t agree with Chan’s theology, most still find him endearing as a speaker. Yes, he’s quirky. But his passion is believable. Which I think is one of the reasons he’s garnered such a massive fan base.

But here, in the above clip, Chan’s quirky love for “creepy Mike Bickle” isn’t believable. I think he wants to believe it. But I’m not sure he really does, not like he believes in and loves Hell.

What do you think? Does Chan really LOVE IHOP creepy, Pastor Bickle? And if so, isn’t it an odd and awkward match?

(Clip found at Christian Nightmares.)

Pumpkins, Original Sin, and That Evangelical Illustration

Yesterday I posted this. Several people (here and on Facebook) asked me to explain  my conversation with Elias’s teacher. A couple people asked why I felt the need to speak with his teacher about the “pumpkin illustration.” So I thought I’d offer a follow-up post to explain…

Why did I talk to Elias’s teacher?

For one thing, because he was 3! And not almost 4, either, though that wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I likely would have discussed the use of this illustration with his teacher even if he’d been 6 or 7. [Read more...]

The Problem With Asking Questions About Faith…

QuestionsI’ve always asked questions about the Christian faith, about my faith.

In the eighth grade, after my Bible teacher explained his Baptist theology for how Jesus’s death and resurrection conquered the gates of Hell, I raised my hand and asked “then why do Baptists believe Hell still exists if Jesus conquered it”?

Did he just conquer part of it? Why didn’t he take care of the whole thing? Didn’t he technically create it?

My questions didn’t go over so well. But as far as I was concerned, inside my mind, my teacher’s answers didn’t go over well, either. Usually they only brought more questions.

Back then—at least among my spiritual kin—those who asked questions were considered troublemakers, trifling, and disruptive.

And perhaps I was all those things at times. But raising hell wasn’t my intent. I would have done just about anything to fit in, to be among the majority who simply believed our church’s doctrine without ever feeling the need to question it.

Today, those of us who ask faith questions are more welcomed among God’s family. Sometimes, depending on what kind of questions we ask and the spiritual environment we exist inside, we’re even accepted as an important part of the faith process. And for that, I am grateful.

But it’s still not easy. For many reasons. [Read more...]

Reformed Rapper Drops Names in New Song ‘False Teachers’

Over at Christianity Today’s Gleanings blog they showcased a new song called False Teacherby reformed rapper Shai Linne.

The rise of Reformed rap continues to draw praise—and controversy.

On Shai Linne’s new album, “Lyrical Theology, Pt. 1: Theology,” which released Tuesday, the Christian rapper does more than just drop a few beats. Linne also drops the names of 12 prominent pastors whom he calls “false teachers.”

In the pre-released single “Fal$e Teacher$,” Linne calls out Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes, and Joyce Meyer, among others, for making “bogus statements, [and being] financially motivated.”

In the song, Linne says, “Don’t be deceived by this funny biz, if you come to Jesus for money, then he’s not your God, money is! Jesus is not a means to an end, the Gospel is He came to redeem us from sin, and that is the message forever I yell! If you’re living your best life now you’re heading for hell!”

Hip-hop lover John Piper praised Linne’s new song, Tweeting this: “My,my, Shai, this is good.”

I’m still trying to get used to the idea that “reformed rappers” are becoming popular.

UPDATE: Paula White’s son responded.

What do you think?

A Post About LifeWay, Vaginas, and @RachelHeldEvans

The following post is my opinion, one based on experiences and conversations that I’ve had over the years.

Rachel Held Evans is trending. Huffington Post, Yahoo, Slate.com, and many more have covered posted stories about Rachel. On Monday, Rachel, along with her husband, Dan, will be on the Today Show. And I couldn’t be more excited for my friend. I had the privilege of reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood this past summer and offering an endorsement of the book.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood is thoughtful, witty, and eye-opening, one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. In detailing her “Old Testament” adventure, the always earnest Rachel Held Evans flexes her writing muscle by painting vivid scenes, inspiring prose, and offering well-played opinions doused with persuasive theology. A Year of Biblical Womanhood is a brave book, proving Evans’ knack for packing a powerful punch while still managing to remain devout, humble, full of grace.

Much of the current buzz about Rachel and her new book is about LifeWay Christian Stores refusing to carry the title because of the word “vagina”. And yes, that’s ridiculous on many levels. But of course there’s more to all of this than just the word “vagina”. There always is. And let’s face it, none of us are exactly surprised by this news regarding Lifeway. LifeWay has a long list of books that its refused to carry. Several of my books have sparked inside conversations between my publishers’ sales team and LifeWay’s buying team. One of my books was banned because of the word “masturbation” and another time it was because of a joke I wrote that referenced Baptists. Rachel’s in good company. Even Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” was banned AT FIRST. The popular title was deemed too controversial, too. But then it became too popular and a too “good of a sales opportunity” not to sell. So LifeWay’s moral code got trumped.

LifeWay has every right to stock what they want to stock. Some have called it censorship, and of course it’s censorship. Censorship is a part of LifeWay’s brand as a “Christian” retail establishment. Those who shop at LifeWay do so because they desire a certain level of censorship. Customers trust LifeWay to have screened the content that they sell. And they do. And trust me, they take that responsibility very seriously.

But regarding Rachel’s book, the word “vagina” is only the beginning of why LifeWay won’t carry the title. Another reason that we don’t like talking about is because Rachel has a vagina. Let me explain. Even before LifeWay read the first word of Rachel’s book, the fact that she is a female author, limited what those words were allowed to say and also to whom Rachel was allowed to say them to. Being a woman limits an author’s biblical platform according to LifeWay.

The only thing that would put Rachel at a bigger disadvantage on the front end would have been if she was a female pastor. A book by a female pastor wouldn’t have made it through LifeWay’s security checkpoint at the entrance to their Nashville offices.

Why? Because LifeWay is owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has rules regarding what women are allowed to say and do. Those rules trickle down to the retail level, influencing what and whom LifeWay is willing to support and sell in their retail stores.

Sure, LifeWay carries a multitude of books written by women. In fact, books written by women are some of their biggest moneymakers. But all of their biggest selling female authors fit into the “role” that the SBC believes is “biblically” fitting for women.

Beth Moore is a perfect example, she’s a non-pastor who “speaks” and “teaches”. Beth’s primary reader and conference attendee is the female who is engaged in church. While men might read her book or see her live, you will rarely see an advertised “Beth Moore teaching event” that is not marketed directly to a female audience. That’s on purpose. Men are usually allowed to attend if they want, but the event is rarely for them. And they are never the marketing focus, because it is against the SBC policy for a female to “teach Bible” to men. Beth “speaks” in front of mixed crowds all the time. But speaking and teaching are different. The language used in the marketing material to advertise A Beth Moore “teaching event” and a Beth Moore appearance is carefully shaped and massaged so that her ministry fits within the context of the SBC rules for women.

I’ve read where some have asked, “Why does LifeWay carry Mark Driscoll’s sex book? It contains the word ‘vagina’ and rather lengthy sexualized descriptions.” To be frank, because he’s a man. And furthermore, because he’s a man who is a “pastor,” which puts him “two LifeWay points” ahead of Rachel from the start.

I have many friends who have worked at LifeWay. Years ago, when she was getting ready to hand in her notice, I remember a friend telling me, “I’m a woman. I’m limited as to what I can do here. I can’t go any higher than I am right now.” Another former employee once said, “sexism bleeds throughout this company in the most subtle ways. Sometimes, because it’s such a part of the culture here, you hardly notice it.”

Oh, people with vaginas work at LifeWay. And they sell lots of books by people who have vaginas. But LifeWay only associates with vagina people who know and respect the rules they have in regards to people with vaginas.

Let me write it one more time… vagina.

The conversation happening all over the Internet about Rachel’s book is a very important one. And it’s not simply about the word “vagina”. This conversation is about equality in the eyes of God. It’s about the limitations that one denomination continues to subject women to simply because they are women. It’s about how a large part of the Christian culture undermines and devalues the role and words of women in conversations regarding theology, church, and spiritual growth.

So please don’t miss the bigger issue here, the story that affects all of us, not just Rachel. Because in the end, Rachel doesn’t need LifeWay to sell her books. She knows that. But this conversation is not just about Rachel and her book. And it’s not just about LifeWay.

It’s about equality in the church. It’s about empowering women to speak up. It’s about encouraging women to embrace their voice/thoughts/opinions with freedom. It’s about the church (all of the church) becoming a safe place for people, people with and without vaginas. And it’s about our daughters, our moms, our sisters, our friends who have vaginas being nourished in spiritual environments where they are not the “weaker partner” but rather a strong valued soul who know and feel loved and accepted fully by God.

Like life itself, the conversation about Rachel’s book begins with the vagina, but that’s only the beginning.