Not long ago a conservative friend I respect asked how I came to the conviction that women are equal to men in gift and call. He reminded me that most of us have a story here. We start out in one place, we learn and we grow, we discard some things and embrace others — we are in process.
It was a gift to be asked and a gift that he opened this conversation. His context is one in which women are valued, but limited from certain roles in the church and excluded from places of authority – in particular from the role of pastor.
My own journey to the conviction that women are not limited in any role in God’s kingdom began in my second year in bible school. I was in a class with a teacher I respected, and he challenged my simple and unreflected position. The next day I took two books out of our library and copied a half dozen articles. The verses from Timothy that had been the center of my argument became secondary to some other passages like that in Galatians 3:26-29. I now began to interpret the pastoral epistles on this issue in light of more critical passages, which led me down the path of seeing the pastoral epistles as addressing particular and local problems.
At the same time, I was getting to know a lot of gifted women. It was obvious that the Spirit was uniquely at work in them — and some of them had gifts that exceeded the gifts of any of their male peers. Equally confounding, many of them had spirits very sensitive to the Spirit of God. They simply had an intimacy with God that I had not discovered — and it seemed very natural to them. I began to discover a secondary process of discernment that runs something like this: If God is doing something, who am I to oppose it? I decided that, as Paul puts it in Corinthians, “the Lord is the Spirit” and the Spirit is Lord.
I don’t pretend to understand the motivations of those within the Neo-Reformed camp, the John Piper’s and Mark Driscolls of the world, to limit the roles of women in the church. I don’t pretend to understand their implied anthropology. I especially don’t understand the narrow definition of masculinity implied in some of the statements they make. I suspect that they are not themselves aware of all the implications of their position, and especially the way that neo-Jungian archetypes may be influencing the way they differentiate gender. I have followed some of the recent discussions with sadness, and sometimes with anger. I admit to a vested interest in the way this conversation moves, since I have two daughters who are strongly gifted, and a wife whose pastoral gifts far exceed my own.
Last week Scott Bryant posted on the Jesus Creed blog, reflecting on the release of the new movie, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” He asks some great questions and suggests some of the challenges we face.
“So who is Lisbeth Salander? She’s the new 21st century female role model. She’s a deeply scarred and troubled young woman, sexually aware, outwardly self-confident, inwardly bruised, and profoundly violent… Sure, she’s in need of rescue, but she’s not about to sit around twiddling her thumbs.
“So with this cultural story as a background, I picked up McKnight’s new e-book, in which he lays out an argument regarding the neutering of the Apostle Junia. I found it astonishing that we, as a church, have not heard more about the lone female apostle in the New Testament, a woman described by the Apostle Paul himself as being “prominent among the apostles.” Now I’m not going to bother you with the details of McKnight’s argument –(pick up the book for $2.99. It’s only 35 pages long..)
“But my point is simply this.. the cultural story is a damaging story that offers little in terms of real hope for young women in the world today. We know that sexualizing the body for the sake of marketing one’s self isn’t the answer. And we know that vengeance for all of the abuses suffered – both large and small – will never lead to closure or reconciliation.
“But as McKnight so clearly illustrates, we also fail to tell a different story! We make sloppy hermeneutical decisions to violate the text and propagate the false idea that Junia was a man. We rarely speak on Huldah. We barely touch on Deborah. In fact, about the only thing we tend to offer is a vision of the “godly wife” from Proverbs 31 – a vision that is often carefully edited to omit the fact that she works outside of the home, earning her own income even as she built a public reputation that is so sound, that it’s praised by the leaders of the community.
“It has been said that nature abhors a vacuum. And I fear that if the church does not begin to seriously take up the task of offering a truly counter-cultural image of what a female disciple might actually look like, if the church continues to let silence be its guiding principle on this subject, than we are likely looking at a future where the vacuum will be filled – not by the likes of Junia, Hulldah, and Deborah, but by the likes of Lisbeth, Buffy, and even the young Chloe Grace Moretz – women left with no choice but to “kick ass.”
Scott is right. We failed to tell a different story. We fail to bring out the nuances in the Magnificat. We fail to notice how Luke contrasts the responses of the men and women in those early chapters — women hearing and obeying God, men fearing and doubting. We fail to understand what a shock it must have been to Luke’s readers that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. We fail to get the similar shock of the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman — the first Christian evangelist.
In short, we fail to see because our imaginations are more shaped by Christian ideologies than by the biblical narrative. And Christian ideologies are fed by cultural practices and assumptions, not by the biblical narrative.
By now most readers of my blog don’t need me to point to the words of John Piper or to Mark Driscoll’s recent rants. But here are some of the things the gentler and more perceptive John Piper said.
“God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles…
“From all of this, I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And, being a God of love, he has done it for the maximum flourishing of men and women.
“Theology and church and mission are marked by overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ, with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, and contrite courage, and risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading, protecting, and providing for the community—all of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the feel of a great, majestic God, who by his redeeming work in Jesus Christ, inclines men to take humble, Christ-exalting initiative, and inclines women to come alongside the men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.”
Gentle, generous, but simply not the fulness of God’s plan or fully embracing of the biblical story. Scot McKnight responds, in part,
“There is a Greek word for “masculine” (andreia), it never occurs in the New Testament (a word close to it occurs in 1 Cor 16:13, but seems to be addressing the whole church — and means courage). Nor does it appear once in any words quoted here of J.C. Ryle. This is a colossal example of driving the whole through a word (“masculine”) that is not a term used in the New Testament, which Testament never says “For Men Only.” Pastors are addressed in a number of passages in the NT, and not once are they told to be masculine.”
See also “Breaking Through the Glass Sidewalk” and