Dr. Bob Kellemen of RPM Ministries has become a good friend and I am happy to have him make a whistle stop here at DR to promote his new book Sacred Friendships, co-authored with Susan Ellis of EternalCommunity.org. Having read portions of the book - but I highly recommend you read the whole thing, as I plan to - I posed Bob some questions.
Q: You explain your book’s approach as “a historical way of viewing and thinking about spiritual friendship, pastoral care, and professional Christian counseling. It is the map we will use to organize systematically what Christian women have done as they provide Christian care giving.” (p. 13) Why might the narrative approach of this book function more effectively than the proposition-based books on female Christian living that saturate Christian bookstore shelves?
A: That’s a fascinating question. For one thing, I think most proposition-based books on female Christian living have an “agenda.” That is, they tend either to come from a “feminist” agenda, or they tend to focus on “putting women back in their place.” Susan and I worked hard to avoid either extreme, as Dr. Timothy George noted in his gracious recommendation of the book. When you use historical narrative, you let historical truth speak for itself—or at least you should.
Plus, we are “story-people.” God created us to live within His narrative of grace and redemption. Over 75% of the Bible is narrative. We have the false idea that some how proposition gives truth but narrative doesn’t.
The narratives in Sacred Friendships teach truth for life through real life. A mother with an unbelieving husband who is trying to mentor her son can learn from Monica’s relationship with Augustine. A wife trying to honor her husband, stay within her God-designed roles, and minister using her gifts can learn from Susannah Wesley. And on and on it goes. These fifty-plus remarkable women teach us—women and men—about life and ministry.
Additionally, a lot of the books on female Christian living that saturate the shelves are, to me, a tad shallow and faddish. Too often they try to Christianize the current secular view of women. Sacred Friendships offers the depth of almost 2,000 years of over fifty women who refused to be conformed to this world and instead were transformed by the renewing of their minds and, in turn, transformed their world for Christ.
Q: You mentioned (in Author Q & A # 6) that the historic voices of women have been silenced in church history due in large part because the writers of church history have been men. Do you believe it is possible for a church or denomination or movement to have a healthy, biblical view of women’s roles in the church even if women’s stories have been lost, or is it absolutely vital that we recover the stories?
A: I also note that women’s voices have been silenced because of male sinfulness that we can trace all the way back to Genesis 3 and Adam blaming Eve, and through the “texts of terror” sprinkled throughout Genesis. I add this thought because it is vital that we understand that a primary result of the Fall relates to how men sin against women by failing to honor women as equal bearers of God’s image. So minimizing the historical role of women is but a symptom of the larger sin of dishonoring women.
Since God created us in His image—male and female He created them and gave them dominion (Genesis 1:26-28)—any approach to life that excludes, minimizes, or dishonors half of the Body of Christ—women, is, theologically and practically speaking, going to be less than fully biblical.
That said, I’m not saying that rediscovering the historical role of women is the solution to this larger biblical issue. But I am saying it is part of the process. Perhaps I would summarize it this way: for a church or denomination to have a healthy, biblical view of women’s roles in the church, one absolutely vital step is the recovery of the buried treasure of women’s roles in church history.
Q: What is the “big idea” in the chapter on the women of the Reformation? What one major thing did the women of the Reformation recover regarding true Christian feminine spirituality?
A: The “big idea” that unites all the stories of women of the Reformation is their commitment to Christ and His Word. For instance, Argula von Grumbach, while thought of as a follower of Luther, declined that label claiming instead to be a follower of Christ. As she put it, “And even if it came to pass—which God forbid—that Luther were to revoke his views,that would not worry me, I do not build on his, mine, or any person’s understanding, but on the true Rock, Christ himself, which the builders have rejected.”
The major truth that women of the Reformation recovered regarding true Christian feminine spirituality was the same truth recovered by male Reformers: the priesthood of all believers. But of course, these women insistently and consistently applied that truth to all believers, not just to all male believers. They refused to bury their talents, their gifts, and their calling because of their gender. While primarily staying within the prescribed “roles” of the day, they believed they had the right, the responsibility, and the ability to come to the Bible directly and to minister the truth in love.
Q: The characteristic of humility weaves through virtually all of the women you have written about in this book. What kind of model does this provide for women in denominations who have opened up even bishop’s seats to women? What of denominations in which women are not permitted to speak or hold offices in churches?
A: I want to do my best to answer your question not through “my eyes,” but through the eyes of the fifty-plus women of Sacred Friendships. How would they respond collectively?
I don’t sense that any of the women of Sacred Friendships fought for “position” or “title.” However, they did humbly insist upon using their gifts for God’s glory. They did refuse to bury their gifts.
In the context of Sacred Friendships, we highlighted their relational gifts of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding men and women. No one could stop these godly women from the one another ministry that communicates, “it’s normal to hurt,” “it’s possible to hope,” “it’s horrible to sin but wonderful to be forgiven,” and “it’s supernatural to mature.”
So, while Nonna did not have a “position” or “title,” she did not seem to “care.” Instead, her son Gregory said of her that she taught her husband how to be a shepherd and a bishop!
Even the Roman authorities could not stop Perpetua from ministering sustaining care, healing hope, reconciling confrontation, and guiding wisdom. They tried to silence her by martyrdom, but to the very end her life spoke.
What model do these women teach? God is less interested in position and title—those are concepts of the world. God is interested in relational ministry, and no one can prevent us from offering one another ministry. It seems to me that that’s just as important for men to realize as for women.
Q: Would Sacred Friendships compliment your core textbook Soul Physicians in a classroom or church seminar setting? If so, how would you recommend they be employed together?
A: Actually, that’s exactly what I do when I present my church seminars and para-church in-services on How to Care Like Christ (http://bit.ly/o7TxX). I use Sacred Friendships, Beyond the Suffering, and my dissertation on Martin Luther’s pastoral counseling to illustrate the truths in Soul Physicians and Spiritual Friends.
It’s rewarding because I say that true biblical counseling must be Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed. So then I am able to illustrate how to think like Christ and how to care like Christ using women in Church history (Sacred Friendships), African American Church history (Beyond the Suffering), and Reformation Church history (Luther).
Another reason Sacred Friendships can easily be used in training pastoral, lay, and professional counselors in conjunction with Soul Physicians, is that they both have a built in discussion/study guide. And both guides aim at life implications and ministry application.
Q: You authored another book giving vote and voice to the silenced and voiceless: Beyond the Suffering. Could this book and your newest one work in tandem in classrooms and churches?
A: They certainly were written “in tandem” in that Sacred Friendships values and validates the ministry of women in soul care while Beyond the Suffering validates the ministry of our African American brothers and sisters in soul care. I think any church that wants a biblical multi-cultural approach to one another ministry could benefit from each book, especially with the built-in discussion guides that help in the equipping process.
Part of what is unique about both books for classroom use is that they are not simply history books; they are not simply counseling books; and they are not simply multi-cultural and/or women’s studies books. They blend all those components in one. So college, seminary, and graduate school classes in counseling, church history, women’s studies, multi-cultural ministry, soul care, spiritual direction, etc., can all benefit from these two works.
You can order Bob's books at his ministry website here.