Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Men and women's roles: Random concluding thoughts

A mono-dialogue
Continuing the conversation (Gen. 1-3)
The end of the conversation (but not really)
1 Timothy 2:8-15 (Part i)
1 Timothy 2:8-15 (Part ii)

I better wrap up this series. Not quite sure what else to say really, at least not in any coherent way.

Why has this discussion proven to be so heated? I’ve mentioned one reason in the introduction – it inevitably touches at the core of who we are. Furthermore, it invariably touches on church practice. An egalitarian female might feel restricted in a church that adheres to complementarian teaching and that she is not being allowed to express her gifts fully. A complementarian might feel uncomfortable sitting in a church where a female pastor is preaching. There really isn’t middle ground. It can be hard to say "let’s agree to disagree" in a situation such as the ordination of female bishops, for in effect, the complementarian is ceding ground to the egalitarian.

In recent years, the debate has also moved on in such a way that links it with more fundamental Christian doctrines. One of the things that interested me in the initial comment thread over at Tim’s original post is how quickly the discussion moved to the question of the authority of the Bible. Some prominent complementarians, most notably Wayne Grudem, has discerned a trajectory that he sees as leading to liberalism in the way egalitarians read the Scriptures. Egalitarians will dispute this. So there is a sense in which there is a more fundamental debate going on. IMHO, the current vigorous debates over the trustworthiness/clarity/authority of the Scriptures is going to be one of the top two or three debates which will mark out my generation, thanks to the powerful challenges posed by the "postmodern turn" and a pluralistic world. There is an urgent need for a fresh rearticulation of the doctrine of God’s Word and how it informs the Christian life.

Another fundamental doctrine that has been linked to the issue of gender roles has been that of the Trinity. These debates are very complicated, and touch on the issue of the subordination of the Son to the Father. Kevin Giles, an Australian theologian and an egalitarian, has been very scathing in particular on complementarians, effectively accusing them of being Arians (i.e. believing that God the Son is somehow lesser to the Father). Complementarians defend themselves by pointing out the difference between essence and roles. As you can see, the waters can get murky indeed.

It’s just really, really hard for both sides not to talk past each other. The surrounding culture makes it tough too. A complementarian sees a world where people are simply confused by what it means to be a man and woman, from “hooking up” to high divorce rates, and are alarmed by the increasing passivity of the male, often mocked in TV shows where they are portrayed as buffoons and indecisive. An egalitarian sees a world where women in many places are nothing more than objects, where glass ceilings exist, put in place by old boys’ networks, and where women seem to be marginalised in churches.

As I’ve mentioned before, complementarians too need to clearly model Christ-like love and sacrificial headship if there is any chance for them to persuade others that they have interpreted God’s word correctly. They must seek to encourage the gifts of women. 30 or 40 years ago complementarianism was the majority position. I’m certain this is no longer the case.

This has been a series that has been personally stimulating, and I’m glad that I’m somewhat clearer of my position than before I started. Feedback on this series is most welcome! When I have time, I hope to read up a little more on this subject. Here is a short reading list for those who wish to pursue this further:

Two Views of Women In Ministry - contributors: Linda Belleville, Craig Keener (egalitarians), Thomas Schreiner, Craig Blomberg (complementarians). This is the first work to look at if you want to look at the biblical arguments put forward by each side. I definitely want to read this at some point. Make sure that this is the revised edition, as the first edition (which had Ann Bowman as a contributor) was significantly weaker!

Equal but Different, by Alexander Strauch. (C) For an introduction to the complementarian position.

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. (C) Most comprehensive complementarian book.

Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt (C). Does what it says on the tin.

Discovering Biblical Equality, by Rebecca Groothuis et al. (E) This is the egalitarian equivalent of the Piper and Grudem book above.

Women in the Church, by Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo. (E) Argues that women should serve as full partners in ministry with men.

Why Not Women?, by Loren Cunningham et al. (E) YWAM founder offers introduction to egalitarian position.

Men and Women in the Church, by Sarah Sumner. (C/E?) This book is a serious attempt to find a third way, but I have to confess I’m not sure if that’s possible. Still, it’s a worthwhile effort. Supposedly John Stackhouse’s Finally Feminist attempts a similar thing on a more limited/pragmatic scale, but my understanding is that Stackhouse in reality firmly lands on the egalitarian side.

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