Friday, November 04, 2011

Apologetics and Women's Ministry: A Heart for the Mind

This week, in partnership with the International Society of Women in Apologetics, Apologetics315 will be featuring a series of essays from women in apologetics. This following essay has been contributed by Sarah J. Flashing, entitled: Apologetics & Women’s Ministry: Having a Heart for the Mind.

Knowing what you believe and why should be a requirement for everyone, no matter their worldview. And as Christians, there is a direct correspondence to the gospel we proclaim and the components of the worldview we say we represent. So as a young mother over 13 years ago, struggling with all kinds of trials, I found myself no longer satisfied with the very sincere and genuine consolations that “God knows your struggles” or “Jesus loves you” or “I’m praying for you.” Of course, I appreciate such affirmations and continue to do so today, but these were statements that, when left unpacked, made a little impact in my spiritual growth. For instance, without or with little understanding of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, “Jesus loves you” offers little more solace than being told by a friend that she loves you.

As I began to probe deeper into the depths of the theological meaning of my faith, I began to ask other questions, like “why Christianity?” “What makes Christianity the superior worldview?” It was from this point of inquiry that I launched into the field of apologetics, the first year or so gathering information while investigating. This was a search for truth, not so that I could feel good about myself but so I could be confident about what I was claiming to know.

The struggles I faced in my life were not unique to me, nor were they the worst possible thing I could experience. But my relationship with God was seriously lacking substance, and over the years as I have learned to give an answer for the hope within, it has helped me in my ministry and friendships with other women. As a ministry leader, I offer no pretense of a “charmed life” and find myself shocked by very little these days.

How I coupled the ministry of apologetics to women’s ministry is an amazing story because I certainly did not choose to do this myself. During my investigative period, at some point I determined that I wanted to obtain a degree from a Christian college so that I could effectively serve the church, a desire that eventually turned me toward seminary education so I could be trained to teach theology/apologetics at the undergrad level.

There is a dirty little secret that many in apologetics ministry have come up against, and that is the general resistance of the church to bring robust apologetics education more mainstream to the people in the pew. So my desire to equip the next generation of leaders at the college level, training them to be culture warriors as defenders of the faith was actually a response to that circumstance. But my educational pursuits had something to do with two other issues as well. The first issue was that as a woman in the evangelical community, there are few teaching roles except in the area of women’s ministry, and women’s ministry traditionally has offered little space for the nurturing of the Christian mind. That couldn’t have been what God was calling me to. Secondly, if not women’s ministry, then as a female theologian/apologist, there was little opportunity for my teaching contributions in the complementarian setting of the church I had chosen. But I knew that God couldn’t have placed these desires and gifts in my life so that they could remain unused. So pursuing higher education in order to answer the call to ministry in the academy only made sense. But as I listened to one of my seminary professors explain in class how, particularly in the area of bioethics, pastors need more information, time and the mechanisms available to disseminate information, and that they were getting little help from the seminary in terms of training, I came to realize that God was indeed calling me to church ministry to women. That meant becoming a trailblazer.

My experience in women’s ministry had offered little that was theologically reflective or intellectually engaging…it had been mind-numbing. But when I recognized that women’s ministry and discipleship could be regarded as an essential pathway for Christian bioethics, it seemed that this might also be true for worldview and apologetics ministry, because one cannot teach Christian bioethics without teaching Christianity. So while very little seemed to be available to women in terms of in-depth theological studies and worldview training on contemporary issues, I heeded God’s call not only to the work, but to the risk because to bring these areas of thought to women’s ministry was not going to be easy, and I knew it. But it was abundantly clear that this is where God wanted me, partly because it was something I would have never chosen for myself.

In the world of apologetics today, there seem to be some assumptions about what apologetics is. As a result, I believe the body of Christ is lacking some pertinent information in how they receive the information that is intended to equip them for ministry and to impact their moments of self-doubt. Recently, I spoke at a church on the general task of apologetics only to surprise them with the knowledge that there are different schools of thought within the discipline: evidentialism, classical apologetics, presuppositionalism, Reformed epistemology and the cumulative case method. Knowing little about methodology, the expectation was that I would present a Little-ian apologetic instead of a Van Tillian apologetic. Why this is important is because how we present our defense of the faith depends as much on our theology as it does the worldview we are defending. Our theology must ground our apologetics, our apologetics must never attempt to ground our theology, as a very wise man once told me. For the life of the mind to be encouraged in the pew, we need to train people not just what to know about Christianity but how to think in general and on matters of faith specifically.

For women in the church today—married, single, single-parents, grandmothers, etc—the responsibility is great. We are integral in the shaping of culture today and into the future by impacting minds for Christ—young, old, and in between. Women need to be able to leave an intellectual legacy, and equipping women through the pathway of women’s ministry is an important place for the task of worldview formation to begin.

After six years, hundreds of blog posts, radio interviews, speaking engagements and opportunities to write for other organizations and websites as well as the inception of our regional and national conference educational strategy, The Center for Women of Faith in Culture is making an impact on women’s minds and lives.

Sarah J. Flashing is a writer and speaker with a passion for teaching women how to develop a Christian worldview. She has been in ministry to women in the church for several years, equipping them on a range of topics including women’s ministry leadership, apologetics and theology, and topics in bioethics. She is an avid blogger and her pieces can be read at The Center for Women of Faith in Culture, FirstThings/Evangel, CT’s Gifted for Leadership blog, and The Point


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