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Category: Egalitarianism

Women Teaching in Seminary, Oh Yes! (@KaitlinCurtice)

Women Teaching in Seminary, Oh Yes! (@KaitlinCurtice)

On Tuesday I noticed a tweet, after comments on the Desiring God blog regarding women teaching in seminary. The answer was, not surprisingly, no. The men who do ministry should be taught by men who model men leading the church.

Here’s the tweet:

I thought this such a good idea that I immediately chimed in with the names of two teachers, one in my undergraduate theology program and one in graduate school who had been important, even critical influences on my learning and development. I intended to blog immediately afterward and talk about why I list these two women, both of whom have gone on to glory, in particular. Unfortunately, life happened, and a couple of days have passed. I’m still going to do it.

Preliminary Thoughts

But first, ever the wordy one, let me write a note on my view of women in ministry. I’ve been accused of not really being egalitarian, not by other egalitarians, but by complementarians. The reason seems to be that I don’t say men and women are the same. Come to think of it, I pretty much don’t say men and men are the same. That is, we’re all different. What I do say is that this isn’t the issue. The issue is to see each person as one who is gifted by God, to recognize the gifts God has given, and to not merely allow, but to do everything to encourage that person to use those gifts.

How many women should be in church leadership? Precisely the number that God has gifted for that leadership. How many women should teach? Precisely the number that God has gifted to do that teaching. My main scriptural argument in favor of women in leadership is that the Holy Spirit gives gifts as the Spirit wills (Hebrews 2:4, among many others), and that when such gifts are recognized, quenching the gifts is quenching the Spirit. It is also not men who have the right to allow or not allow women in ministry. Their call is a call from God. Men have the choice of recognizing or not recognizing God’s call.

I do understand the other view and the scriptures on which it is based. I believe that it is a case of using advice produced for a particular time and place and making it universal. I believe making it universal hinders the advance of the kingdom.


I have been taught by many women. Doubtless, complementarians would approve of having women as teachers in elementary and high school. I have to mention home school years with my mother and my older sister Betty Rae, both strong influences on my. Ethel Wood at Wildwood Rural School in northwest Georgia, who discovered I already knew how to type, and used my help in the school office. There I learned some skills that would come back to me later when I became a publisher. But this isn’t just about having women influence one’s life. It’s about training people for church leadership.

Theological Education

Lucille Knapp

Lucille Knapp taught first and second year Greek at Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University). I was privileged to take both these courses and to become friends. She was determined not just to teach us Greek but to help us use it to understand the Bible better and to help us grow in our spiritual lives in ways beyond just language.

I remember her particularly for gentle conversations urging me to consider unfamiliar ideas that hadn’t been part of my world before. She also connected the beauty of literature with my spiritual journey. When I graduated, I received a gift from her of a book of inspirational poetry, along with a note that urged me to remember that faith and theology were not just about the technicalities of biblical languages and biblical studies, which were my focus, but also about the experience of beauty and of God’s presence that was available through art and literature.

There were some people who thought she should shut up and just teach Greek. It was OK that she teach technicalities, but she should quit trying to influence others and shape their spirituality in any way. I’m glad she resisted those voices and continued to model spiritual leadership to her students.

(A bio and obituary.)

Leona Glidden Running

When I arrived at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, though my degree was an MA in Religion, concentrating in biblical and cognate languages offered by the graduate school, I almost immediately meet Dr. Running. Some of us thought she truly deserved her last name, as she was an active and vigorous person who didn’t let any grass grow under he feet. Ever. She didn’t believe in letting grass grow under our feet either.

One of my favorite memories of her was taking the final exam in Akkadian. I was the only student for that term for Akkadian, so the class had been somewhat informal. She handed me the final exam, which was a legal size sheet of paper filled on both sides with cuneiform text. She said, “Translate this. You have two hours.” Then she walked out of the room.

Now my guess is that I might have produced a good translation of a few lines in two hours. I don’t mean getting the gist, but getting a workable translation. The idea that I could produce a decent translation of that much text in two hours at the end of my first quarter was ludicrous.

So I struggled through, grabbing the first possible translation I could find and writing it down, knowing that I wouldn’t have time to recheck, and also knowing that I had to be making substantial errors. I managed half of the first page using that approach. At the end of two hours she was back, took the paper and made no comment. I got it back the next day with a grade — an A. So I asked her how this was possible. I was actually gratified by how few red marks there were in my translation, but I mean that with reference to my expectations. The page was still doing some bleeding! She said, “I wanted to see your first pass. I didn’t want you to have time to double check. I graded accordingly.” She had deducted only for things she thought I should have gotten without taking a second pass.

She also invited me to tutor Greek and Hebrew for the seminary students, guided me through what to charge so I could help pay my way. (I had a fellowship, but it didn’t cover all expenses.) When my Uncle, Don F. Neufeld, passed away, she was the one who recognized that I was grieving when I was still telling myself I could handle this. She made sure I made the trip to his funeral and took care of myself. She remained a friend after graduation.

She was, like Lucille Knapp, an example of leadership. She modeled that godly leadership for me.

(A bio and her obituary.)

Different Styles

Even though I didn’t select them for that reason, I like the fact that they exhibited two very different styles. I chose these two names because their influence on me was powerful.

I will still tell classes that while I value my knowledge of biblical languages highly, it was not learning the biblical languages that did the most for my hermeneutic. It was learning about people, learning how people react. Often elements of the tone of a Bible passage become much clearer when I think about the way people react to different things. Lucille Knapp is responsible for starting me on that way of thinking, and I’m eternally grateful.

Dr. Running, on the other hand, taught me that thoroughness is important, but so is diligence and vigorous pursuit of a goal. It isn’t just your last read that counts, but the way you attack a text in the first place. In coming to understand a text, it’s important not to get hung up or lost in the forest while carefully examining each tree. Of course, that has to be balanced by thoroughness, but she both modeled that for her students and expected it of them.


My life and work would be significantly less productive without these two women who taught, one in a theological school, and the other in a seminary. I thank God that their gifts were not suppressed, and that they were there for my benefit.

(Image credit: Modified by me.)

A Note on My View of Egalitarianism

A Note on My View of Egalitarianism

Speaking of equality, I want to write a brief note on egalitarianism as I see it. As with all labels, the boundaries are often a problem. Back in early science classes, I learned to distinguish vegetable, animal, and mineral. At certain levels, those distinctions become pretty muddy. It’s not just in social science.

What I mean by egalitarianism is that all activities and offices should be available to men and women based on their gifts, not on their gender. If a woman has pastoral gifts, she should pastor. I’m actually less concerned with the office of pastor than with the exercise of the gifts of a pastor, but since I believe that offices should follow gifts, the two would generally go together. I do not mean that there must be an equal number of men and women in pastoral roles. I do not comment on how many women or men might be gifted for those roles. I don’t know. I suspect that there may be more women gifted for those roles in the church at the moment. I also believe that authority follows gifts in the same way as an office does; the greatest behaves as a servant.

I’m not going to try to define complementarianism here, though I previously objected to a definition of complementarian which was alleged to include my own position. This is because I don’t believe that men and women are the same. They are not. I simply believe that either a man or a woman may have any set of gifts, and if they do, they should make use of those gifts as God’s servants. I’m stating this in church terms, but I hold the same view in society in general. The issue for me is not how many of what hold what position or job; rather, the issue is whether a person who has certain gifts can fully exercise those gifts.

Now specifically in the church I think there should be less difference between the practice of the complementarian and egalitarian positions than there is, assuming we both take the same view of authority that Jesus did. “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11 NRSV). In the church, this issue should not be one of seeking power. I think God, through Jesus Christ, has set the goal, which is leading with grace. That means that Christian leadership, no matter who exercises it, should be based in service. Those who follow leaders in the church should be doing so because they respond to that grace, demonstrated in being the servant of all. To whatever extent the battle over gender equality in the church is a struggle for supremacy, rather than for servanthood, it’s on the wrong track.

I don’t mean by this that those who are suppressed or oppressed in churches by leaders who seek power should just roll over. What they should do is either follow servant leaders or become servant leaders themselves. Move on to where you can do that! Let those who seek power exercise it over empty buildings if they must. Let’s live as servants in the world and be a servant church.

A Calvinist Complementarian defines Arminian and Egalitarian

A Calvinist Complementarian defines Arminian and Egalitarian

… and does so very well. Not surprisingly (to me, at least), this is from C. Michael Patton on Parchment and Pen. To quote his definitions of “complementarian” and “egalitarian”:

Complementarianism: Belief in essential equality, but functional hierarchy in the sexes. This hierarchy is by God’s design and is not due to the fall. Man is to be the leader in the church and home. Women are not to be in positions of authority over man in the church or home, but are honored due to their role in the same way as men.

Egalitarianism: Belief in the essential and functional equality of the sexes. All role distinctions which imply leadership belonging to the man is due to the fall, not by God’s design. Therefore, women can serve in positions of authority over man in both the church and the home. Role is assigned by individual giftedness, not gender.

While I would say that many in each group take things a bit further, for paragraph length definitions, I would describe those as fair, balanced, and even accurate. The same goes for the definitions of “Arminian” and “Calvinist.”

The whole post is worth reading, especially as he discusses how a church can show, and not just teach, grace.



Wayne Leman, in a commendable effort to maintain a tighter focus on Better Bibles, has started a new group blog Complegalitarian, which he defines as “Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.” This would take the largest single topic not directly related to Bible translation off of the Better Bibles blog.

As I read it, discussion of translations related to such issues would still be welcome at Better Bibles, but discussions of the broader related issues of theology and how egalitarianism or complementarianism works in practice would be left for the new blog.

I think this could be an enjoyable new blogging option.

Which Paradigm to Check

Which Paradigm to Check

David Lang has written an interesting post at Better Bibles dealing with the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Readers of this blog will realize that I’m not terribly moderate on this particular issue–I’m passionately egalitarian.

David does make a good point about polarizing arguments, however:

. . . In the process of trying to persuade those who disagree with us, we often become even more polarized in our views. We get so frustrated with the other person for not agreeing with us and so flustered by their arguments, that we begin to shore up our own arguments and press the text to say something more clearly or explicitly than it really does. This is especially true when we see the stakes as being high. . . .

It’s quite true that overstating one’s case can both drive neutral parties away and alienate opponents so that dialog becomes much more difficult if not impossible. I would say on the other hand, speaking from personal experience, that one can be so careful not to overstate one’s position that it becomes unclear just what the position is.

People will then congratulate you for being a peacemaker, but the problem continues. You can spend so much time framing a debate, that the debate itself gets lost.

David’s comments are not without merit, however. And I will keep them in mind as I state things fairly forcefully. But perhaps I will restrain myself from time to time!

But the key point to which I wanted to respond is this:

As I’ve observed the gender role debate, I’ve seen this dynamic played out over and over again. There is a finite set of Biblical passages which the two camps must deal with. . . .

It’s a simple statement and is perhaps not David’s main point, but it becomes my main point. Why? Because I do not believe that this debate is a matter of dealing with a finite set of Biblical passages. We are warned to check presuppositions, so the presupposition I want to check is this very one.

To me, the issue is not a finite set of Biblical passages. I happen to believe, for example, that at least in some of his churches, Paul did not permit women to teach. I don’t think Paul would, in his context, have advocated ordination of women. The “finite set of passages” position seems to rest on the idea that the Bible is primarily a set of theological propositions, and if we can just straighten it out so that all of them say one thing, that is the theological answer.

I would suggest instead looking for the principles on which the various individual judgments were based. To me particular counter-examples to male leadership, such as Deborah in the Old Testament and Junia in the New are that much more significant because of the fact that they occurred in overwhelmingly male dominated societies. That is an interesting factor, whether or not there are particular texts that speak against women in leadership or not.

This leads me to believe that I don’t have to “deal with” all of these passages, at least in the sense of explaining that they really express an egalitarian ideal. What I’m looking for is what are truly the basic principles of the kingdom.

When I have found those I try to apply them to living in a modern society. What worked in Paul’s churches may not work in today’s churches and vice-versa. What I must be careful to do is to make sure that my behavior today is based on the same principles.

I take this a bit further, however. It is not merely Biblical passages that are involved, but also church traditions, and most importantly the present day guidance of the Holy Spirit. Now I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit will guide us into violating the principles that are expressed in scripture, but he certainly can guide us into seeing how those principles are to be applied in a modern context. All of this is accomplished using our reasoning powers–always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or so we’d all like to assume.

The paradigm that I would like to see shift is one that expects us to explain all of the texts one way or the other, and takes a look at the general trend of scripture–the trajectory, if you please–to see where God is leading us.

I do believe passionately that God is leading us to more equality in ministry. I believe this because I see it happening in scripture–some of the time. I believe it because women have stepped up throughout church history. I believe it because I see genuine calls and gifting amongst women in areas the complementarians would reject. But most importantly, I see anything less than equality in the church as unworthy of the incarnation. The Word becoming flesh dwarfs these kinds of human barriers.

Church Planting Body Count

Church Planting Body Count

I regularly find myself surprised at how surprised some folks are at the unsurprising. We should, after all, expect people to be the people they are, and Mark Driscoll is Mark Driscoll. Shocking, isn’t it?

Well, Mark Driscoll prepared a video for a conference on church planting in which he was very much himself, and some folks were shocked. They criticized the video, and they didn’t hand out copies as promised.

I first saw this video on Adrian Warnock’s blog. Adrian comments:

I am praying for him right now as I write this as I am sure this was the last thing he was expecting or wanting. Personally I love the video and I think he is right on with what he says. Well done Mark for standing for God and more power to your elbow!

Well, it should surprise nobody that I don’t particularly like the video, and I think there are substantial issues there beyond the exclusively man-oriented view of the world. Driscoll comments repeatedly on the things Jesus is not, and often in fairly derogatory terms. I particularly noted “tell the lady with the tambourine who shows up to church to park it” though I’m sure we’ve all been there with people who are doing things that we’d prefer they didn’t. So I disagree with the clearly male authority dominated approach.

But I’m more disturbed by the picture of Jesus that is presented. The picture of “gentle Jesus meek and mild” is not a terribly accurate one, and it does need to be balanced. But the rough, overbearing Jesus, the hunting buddy Jesus who despises people who drink herbal tea and aren’t masculine enough, is also a false and dangerous caricature. (Bias alert: I drink herbal tea. 🙂 )

There is also a good message hidden in there, though it has been buried under mounds of extraneous junk. Church planting isn’t easy. And despite almost disparaging remarks in the video about pastors of existing churches, pastoring isn’t all that easy either. (I sincerely hope that Driscoll didn’t intend to be a dismissive of the ordinary role of pastoring as he seemed to be. I think he was just very strongly focused on the church planters role, but I would suggest more care.) There will be people one cannot help, and there are people who need to be told to find another place to worship. Often that is to their benefit as well as to the benefit of the local church. But that is hidden by the shock value of the tone and of the setting for the video.

Nonetheless I would have told the leadership of the conference to have the video handed out. First, they should do so because they asked Mark Driscoll for a video, and they have some obligation not to make him spend money and then send his people home. Being people of their word should be important. Second, I don’t think moderate and liberal Christians should fear conservative ideas. That video provides me with more material to use in illustrating precisely what I don’t like about the complementarian approach and certain uses of the spiritual warfare metaphor.

I do have to ask my complementarian brethren, however, whether they would give equal time to a video presenting the egalitarian position. Is this about an open exchange of ideas, or are you just offended that a video espousing your view was not welcomed?