Updated: Aug 13, 2018
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your life with me and our readers. I am super excited about this interview and getting to know you more. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself, where you live, what kind of stuff makes you happy?
Sure thing and thank you for the opportunity to share. I live in southern Ontario, Canada with my wife Helga and our two children. What makes me happy? Spending time with people I love (God, family and friends), learning things that help me experience greater freedom in my relationship with God, and passing on what I’m learning so that others can benefit. In my down time, I love wandering through book shops looking for old dusty volumes that might give me some insight into ancient history that is relevant to Biblical studies.
That's pretty cool! So Bob, how long have you been a Christian? Was there any specific moment you clearly remember God coming alive to you in a new, real way?
I’ve be following Jesus for just over 30 years, and my introduction to Christianity came somewhat dramatically during my teen years. Having experienced some childhood trauma, I had a lot of questions. Unfortunately, I didn’t know God or the Bible, and I turned to the wrong place for answers. I studied and practiced the occult for a number of years. During this time, a very kind and courageous friend named Richard told me about God’s love for me, and warned me that my spiritual pursuits were dangerous. I didn’t believe him at the time, and thought I knew better. Despite my unbelief, Richard told me that if I got into trouble with the occult, I should call out to Jesus, and He would help me.
Richard’s words of warning turned out to be very helpful. Some friends and I gathered to engage in occult activities one night, and one of these friends invited the spirit we were communicating with to take control of him. Immediately after doing this, my friend jumped on top of me and began twisting my head around to the point where my neck would snap. In that moment, I remembered what Richard had told me, and I called out to Jesus for help, in my head. My friend immediately got off of me, sat down and asked what had happened. I explained that I was pretty sure he had been possessed and had just attacked me. I told him that I had called out to Jesus, and that I thought we should invite a Christian friend of mine over to the house to pray with us. Richard came over, with his Bible, and explained the gospel message that Jesus had died on the cross for our sins, so that we could be free from them and forgiven. He encouraged us to pray with him to let Jesus know we trusted in Him as our Savior and were willing to follow Him as our Lord. We did that together, and this was the beginning of my relationship with God.
After praying together, I opened a Bible out of sheer curiosity to see what it might say. I opened to Acts 19, where a number of people who practiced sorcery in Ephesus repented of those practices and destroyed all of their occult scrolls. I gave all of my occult literature and paraphernalia to Richard so that he could dispose of it. I began attending church with Richard the very next Sunday.
Wow! That's incredible! That's our Jesus!
So, I first "met you" online in an egalitarian group that we were both part of and I was drawn to your writing right away. Would you tell our readers a bit about your "egalitarian journey"? And maybe start by telling us what the term "Christian egalitarian" means to you.
To me, the term “Christian egalitarian” means that I’m a follower of Jesus who believes that women and men are called to relate to one another as equals. To explain what I mean by “relating as equals,” I would say that people are called to serve God according to the gifts they receive from the Holy Spirit. Women and men may also share decision-making authority in the home and in the church. The idea that God made men to rule over women didn’t come from God. It came from men who were strongly influenced by the cultural prejudices and sexist philosophies of their day.
I guess my egalitarian journey starts by explaining that Richard’s church was firmly complementarian. Both pastors were male; female pastors were not permitted. All of the elders and ushers were also male. I didn’t actually hear or see women take an active role in the Sunday morning service at all. What’s really sad is that I initially didn’t even notice this. I would say that my “eyes were not opened” to the inequality I was now immersed in. As a new believer, I just accepted that this is what “church” looked like, and that it must be okay, because it must be “God’s idea.”
This acceptance was first shaken when I attended a leadership conference for our denomination. There were people from churches all over North America. It was a very large, well-attended conference. One of the main messages was an invitation to respond to a call to pastoral ministry. I feel a deep ache when I remember what happened next. A young woman expressed her desire to respond to this call and become a pastor. The response of my male peers left me speechless. They began shouting accusations at her, saying that she was rebelling against God by wanting to be a pastor, and that her call to ministry could not have come from God. She said that there was a passage in Galatians that said women and men were equal in Christ, and that it was wrong to say women should not serve God through pastoral ministry. She was then accused of calling God a bigot. She became flushed and tearful, and ran out of the conference. I never saw her again.
I remember thinking, what in the world had just happened? In church I was learning that “God is love,” but love was certainly not what I had just witnessed. This was the first time I began to question “complementarianism.”
My pastor had a sense that God might call me to full-time Christian ministry. He encouraged me to ask God about this in prayer, so I did. That night I had a very vivid dream, in which God was telling me that He had a message for me in John 20:21. Still new to the faith, I didn’t even know if there was a John 20:21. When I woke up, I found my Bible and looked up the passage. In it, Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace be with you. As my father has sent Me, so I am sending you.” I took this as an indication that I should prepare for Christian ministry, and this decision led me to Bible College. While attending Bible College, my complementarian views were once again challenged. Another student told me that a woman named Junia had been an apostle, but that some translations of the Bible changed her name to a man’s. I couldn’t believe that; I didn’t believe that! In addition to learning that God made men to be leaders in the church, I was also taught that God had sovereignly preserved an inerrant copy of His “Word,” the Bible, for us in English. Surely God wouldn’t allow human beings to tamper with His revelation, and make that kind of significant change. I began to pray and ask God to please help me sort out all the conflicting messages I was receiving about my faith.
I then remember this feeling of deep sadness coming over me, and it seemed as though God was asking me if I really wanted to know the answer to my questions about women and the church. I got the strong impression that I wouldn’t like what I would find. Nevertheless, I said, “Yes God, I want to learn.” This was the beginning of a journey that changed my world.
Woah- so what happened next?
I remember the day I felt prompted to go to a local university/seminary library. So I went and was heading for the catalog to look up some books on women and the church. “No,” I had the strongest impression that I was not to do that, but that God had some things he wanted to show me. I remember feeling “led” in a way that I can’t really put into words. I was to go to the 5th floor in the Library, which I did, and then to a certain section of old, hard-cover books. Two of them really stood out to me, and I felt prompted to read them. They were written by St. Augustine, and I must tell you that he had some terrible things to say about women. He talked about domestic violence--blaming women for the beatings they received, accusing them of not being suitably submissive to their husbands, their “lords.” Searching other sources on St. Augustine, I found that he also compared women to “the flesh” and men to “the spirit,” and said that just as the spirit must rule the flesh, so too must men rule over women. This was the source of the patriarchy I was observing in my church and denomination. It wasn’t from God; it had its origin in a very ugly human prejudice. I then read other comments by other influential theologians from roughly the same period in church history. The prejudice against women was widespread. It was entrenched in the Roman laws of the day, and was also found in a dominant Greek philosophy (Platonism) that had influenced all of the theologians I was studying.
I then found a history book that detailed the crimes of the church against women during the Inquisition. When I read this material, I fell to my knees and wept. My chest felt so tight I thought I was having a heart-attack. Women who reported direct spiritual experiences with God were executed, by the authority of the church. Some women were blamed for sexual crimes committed against them by men. The Inquisitors found the women guilty of bewitching men to the extent that the men could not say “no” to their sexual impulses.
I still remember the Spirit saying that I had now found the source of the controversy around women in the church. I was speechless. I then remember being instructed to teach what I was learning; I have been researching women’s equality, and sharing my findings ever since.
This is incredible. I'm going to go ahead and wager a guess that one of your strongest ministry gifts is that of a "teacher". Am I right or how do you feel God uses you most effectively?
I definitely enjoy learning, and sharing what I learn with others, as long as the information has the potential to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I would say that in order for that to be effective, I have a role to play as the person delivering the message, the recipient has a role to play in being open to new information, and God has the most important role to play, shepherding that whole process. I did very much enjoy teaching formally at an interdenominational Bible College for a number of years. I feel that God called and enabled me to do that in a way that benefited the students. Helga and I continue to teach in churches and other settings on topics related to the Christian faith, mental health and women’s equality.
I love that you mentioned that you want the information to make a positive difference in people's lives. I think that is so key. Now, I know you've recently completed some projects. Can you tell our readers a bit about your online video course? Also, I believe you have a book / workbook available. Please let us know about that too.
Yes, I’d be happy to. My wife Helga and I recently wrote “The Equality Workbook: Freedom in Christ from the Oppression of Patriarchy.” The first part of the workbook focuses on removing a patriarchal bias from Bible translation and commentary. We identify instances where later Latin and English translations diverge from early Hebrew, Greek, and even Aramaic manuscripts. Sadly, we found a number of such instances in both the Old and New Testaments, and all of the changes seem to try to shoehorn the Bible into a very patriarchal (i.e. men must be in charge) framework. We also discuss commentary written by influential theologians throughout church history that has essentially done the same thing. When a patriarchal bias is identified and removed, it allows that Bible’s original message to shine through. According to our oldest biblical records, understood in context, God did not establish a “divine hierarchy” in which men are expected to “rule over women.” That addition to the Bible was made by translators, scribes and commentators who used Roman law and ancient Greek philosophy as an interpretive guide to the Bible. This problem reminds me of the following warning from the prophet Jeremiah: “How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” (8:8) Evidently, this isn’t the first time that God’s Word has been altered by human beings.
The second half of the workbook is written to help women—and men—recover from the damage that can be done to a person’s life and relationships by the false teaching of patriarchy.
The online video course you mention is really much of the first half of the Equality Workbook presented in a different format. We received feedback that some people wanted the information, but did not really want to sit down and read it all in a book; so, we have video lessons that people can watch or simply listen to if they like. There is text for those who like to read, and there is audio for those who don’t. People are also welcome to share the video lessons with friends on a big screen if there is an interest in that. Interspersed between lessons, there are also some fun, interactive review quizzes that people can do by themselves or with a group.
Helga and I also just completed a book entitled, “Addressing Domestic Violence in the Church.” It highlights that the greatest predictor of male violence against women is an environment that encourages the male control of female behavior. Sadly, patriarchal theology does just that. We also examine a number of Bible verses that are often misused by abusive men to rationalize their behavior and/or make women feel that they are obligated by God to submit to abuse. We then share a number of practical safety strategies both for women in abusive situations and for those hoping to offer them support.
That all sounds very good... and timely. Do you have any new projects that you're working on now?
Yes, Helga and I are currently doing a podcast series entitled, “The Bible Message without Patriarchy.” That's available at awakedeborah.podbean.com. We plan to share the Bible's story of God's love for humanity, highlighting passages from the book of Genesis through to the book of Revelation. Each podcast episode includes a reading from an English translation of the Bible that does not contain a patriarchal bias in that particular passage. In addition to examining ancient Bible manuscripts, we’ll also be taking an in-depth look at the historical and cultural context of the biblical books, to get a better sense of how their message was understood by their original audiences.
Okay, here's a crazy question...How in the world have you learned everything that you know? Was there any actual strategy? Did you go to school for some of this stuff or just study on your own?
Well, that’s a good question. I have to give credit where credit is due when it comes to my learning. I had some wonderful professors—women and men—who taught me the Bible, theology, textual criticism, and the historical contexts of the biblical books during my Bachelor’s degree at Bible College. I then studied New Testament Greek, ancient history, sociology, psychology and philosophy in another Bachelor’s program at University. I especially enjoyed the Greek classes and studying the history of patriarchy in the Western world, with a special focus on the Roman Empire. Then in the Master of Social Work program, I studied more sociology and psychology, as well as psychotherapy, organizational dynamics and research methodology. All of this formal learning has definitely helped to shape my understanding of the issues I write and talk about. Helga and I attended Bible College and University together, and we often did many of our projects and presentations together. That was wonderful!
Following these studies, I’ve found that I have a passion for ancient history and language, so I’ve continued my Greek studies as well as reading ancient literature written mainly by Jewish, Greek and Roman sources. If there was a strategy to all of this, I confess that it wasn’t mine. Looking back, I see the hand of God guiding my learning.
What advice do you have for our readers who may also have a passion to learn, discover, study and teach? Is there still a need for it in the Body? Do they have to have a formal degree to be legitimate? What are your thoughts on this?
I really believe the Holy Spirit will direct people who are willing to trust and follow when it comes to learning, education and ministry. God’s strategy for one person may be very different than His strategy for someone else. The apostle Paul certainly had a theological education, but I think he had to unlearn a lot of what he had learned once it was revealed to him that Jesus was, and is, the Messiah. Luke was a doctor, Matthew a tax collector, Peter a fisherman. I would say that if someone feels called to Bible College or University they should say “yes” to that calling. Some of the things I learned in those settings have been very valuable...other things were not really that helpful. God may, however, call someone to ministry without that type of training. Peter was “the real deal” not because of a seminary education, but because God called and equipped him to share the gospel to his generation. Some of his most important lessons came through visions and other direct experiential learning. This is how he learned, for instance, that the gospel was not just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles. He saw a vision, and then witnessed Gentiles being filled with the Holy Spirit.
For me, it is always great to see men and women working side by side to advance God's Kingdom. How do you and your wife work together? Was there ever any struggle in working out your giftings and getting to the point you're both at now? If so, how did you overcome those struggles?
Helga and I enjoy working and writing together. We seek God together, and we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us. We find that our work goes well when we “let go of the reigns” and allow God to direct us. It is God alone who leads and enables us to do the work that we do, and it is only by the Holy Spirit that people are set free.
Also, Helga is a very gifted communicator, getting top marks in homiletics when she attended Bible College. I’m more of a research nerd. Our giftings work very well together. Often I need her help to make ancient history and language information more accessible to a contemporary audience. I love finding dusty, old, sometimes forgotten information, and Helga enjoys presenting information in a “down to earth” and practical way. It’s an incredible blessing.
That's a great combination!
What would you say has been the greatest challenge you've faced by stepping out in ministry and pursuing God's call on your life? How did you deal with it and what have you learned from it, if anything?
I suppose the greatest challenge has been that sometimes people seem to find information threatening. People can be very invested in their “narrative”—the way they make sense of life, God, the Bible, etc.. Information that doesn’t align with that narrative can be perceived as a threat, and people sometimes react accordingly. I think Jesus understood this. The religious leaders of his day felt very threatened by Jesus’ life and message. They accused him of being demon-possessed, a blasphemer, a “friend of sinners,” etc.. In other words, they attempted to undermine his credibility. How does someone respond to that? I like to look to Jesus and David as my examples for this. They entrusted themselves to God, looking to God as their shield. I also attempt to use clear and respectful communication to address these issues directly, but others are not always willing to participate in that process.
If people want to access your resources or read more of your stuff, where can they find you or connect with you on social media?
Helga and I have an Awake Deborah website where people can find all of our books, blog posts, podcast (The Bible Message without Patriarchy) and the online course there, along with information about our public speaking and the various topics we address. There is a contact tab on the website that people can use to get in touch with us. People can also message us through the Podbean podcast site. We also have a Facebook page together in addition to my personal Facebook page.
Thanks so much Bob! This has been fantastic!