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Rachel Held Evans, Owen Strachan, and Adrian Warnock Went on a Radio Show

Rachel Held Evans, Owen Strachan, and Adrian Warnock Went on a Radio Show

It wasn’t as funny as if they’d gone into a bar, but it was considerably more enlightening. It might appear that having two complementarians against one egalitarian was unfair, but Rachel clearly had no problem with the format, and the host pointed out that, though he was playing neutral moderator, he was more inclined to Rachel’s position.

I very rarely listen to something that long. I much prefer the written to the spoken word. If you want to get my attention, write. But the participants were enough to get me started and the quality of their discussion was enough to keep me listening.

It will surprise nobody who reads this blog that I agree with Evans down the line, though I might be a bit more liberal than she is on hermeneutics. The important points on hermeneutics came out more toward the end, though you’ll miss some references if you skip to that point, where Owen Strachan talks about having to obey all of scripture and not pick and choose and warns of a slippery slope. Evans quickly points out that there are other things we don’t follow, yet somehow we don’t feel we’re on a slippery slope.

The fact is that nobody obeys “all of scripture” in the sense of keeping every command. Everyone has some way to distinguish between commands that apply and those that don’t. It’s just that they generally tend to ignore the ones that they have, in their own view, really excellent reasons to ignore. In ignoring them, they hardly notice the fact that they are ignoring commands.

So the question is whether one’s application of a scripture to a situation (or failure to do so) is justified or not. I commented some on this on my Participatory Bible Study blog.

I would add to this discussion this note: When Owen Strachan refers to using the simple or plain portions of scripture to explain those that are more obscure, I find it interesting that he sees commands and theological statements as simple, while stories and history are apparently more obscure. I would see it as precisely the reverse. When Paul says in one place that he doesn’t allow a woman to speak, and in another we have a very clear indication of a woman in authority, I think it would be best to find an interpretation of the command (or theological statement) that doesn’t suggest that Paul was violating his own command, rather than trying to explain away the action and make it appear that it didn’t violate our view of the command.

Thus if Junia stands out among the apostles in Rome, while women submit (and don’t speak) in Ephesus, I’m going to guess that the command has something to do with Ephesus.


Adrian Warnock – List of Complentarian and Egalitarian Texts

Adrian Warnock – List of Complentarian and Egalitarian Texts

Adrian Warnock has produced a list of texts that speak to the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Having looked over the list I don’t think it’s all that bad. In fact, it includes a number of key texts and stories that I would have included in any such list—had I been inclined to create one.

The problem is that I don’t think this, or any issue, can be resolved by doing exegesis on a list of texts, much as I’d prefer that sort of a simple (simplistic) approach. The Bible just doesn’t seem to work that way. What generally results is a process of building one’s theology on one portion of the list and explaining the rest away. We have women speaking and not speaking. We have women leading and not leading.

What’s needed is to form a theology based on scripture (and a hermeneutic capable of arriving at such a theology), and then ask what that theology says about the place of women (and men) in the church here and now. Getting to the root of things can resolve issues of time, place and context.

There was no list of texts that made the church change its approach to gentiles in Acts 15. Oh, there were texts. But what really changed the day was God acting through the church. The scriptural fundamentalists of the day would have taken a list of texts, and said “no.”

Come to think of it, that’s precisely what they did.

Paul Was a Sexist Simpleton?

Paul Was a Sexist Simpleton?

Well, no, I don’t think so, but in one of the best demonstrations I’ve seen of how not to argue, that is a view attributed to others by writer Andrew Wilson on the New Frontiers Theology Matters blog (HT: 42).

Within evangelicalism, four main lines of interpretation can be discerned. (Outside of evangelicalism, the response is fairly simple – Paul was a sexist simpleton who didn’t know any better; we’ve been enlightened now, so we should ignore him – although one wonders if the catastrophic track record of post-1960s white people when it comes to marriage will cause this approach to lose its lustre).

Now it’s hard to tell just who this statement refers to, because evangelicalism is so loosely defined these days. I know I’ve been accused of ignoring Paul. But I get part of the foundation of my egalitarianism from Paul, while at the same time looking to him as a master of working with the culture as he found it. In other words while I suppose someone might find reason to call Paul sexist, though I think they’d be wrong to do so, calling him a simpleton is utterly ridiculous.

(I’m not going to go through the rest of the article, but there are other, less glaring problems in characterizing the evangelical streams the author refers to.)

So who might we say, “resembles” that remark? I know of nobody who does. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but I am a member of a church that ordains women in leadership, and is egalitarian in its theology, and I’ve never encountered anyone who would say something like this about Paul.

What I have encountered are a few people who think all complementarians are either secretly sadistic tyrants or, at a minimum, enablers of the same, something that I again know from personal experience is not the case.

We’re going to make enough mistakes in understanding and characterizing one another’s positions. We need to avoid this kind of statement in Bible study.


Beyond Complementarian

Beyond Complementarian

I found this story appalling. In making decisions about a Christian school and whether the principal should be fired, women were not even allowed to speak.

While I do believe that a denomination or local church should have the right to do what it believes is right with a school it finances, including expecting the teachers to support the party-line, I do not think that it is right to maintain such narrow boundaries. Both the offense and the way it was handled speak more of paranoia than of concern for education.

What I really wanted to note, however, is that complementarians of my acquaintance would pretty much unanimously oppose this type of action as well. It seems that what often happens in controversies happens in the egalitarian debate–those who are not egalitarian are complementarian, and those who are not complementarian are egalitarian, and the line is drawn very near to the opposite end of the spectrum. (Please notice that I’m aware this is not the topic of the original story, nor of Cheryl Schatz’s blog post.)

It’s sort of like the political spectrum where everyone who is not 100% laissez faire can get labeled a socialist, while on the other hand people who would support many socialist ideas are labeled as laissez faire by the “real” socialists.

We should realize that there are many shades in these camps, and that the labels can be problematic, especially if we narrow one and broaden the other, from either direction. Labeling is useful; mislabeling is confusing.

Interpreting the Bible II: Excursus on the Plain Sense

Interpreting the Bible II: Excursus on the Plain Sense

I want to tie up a few loose ends in my first post on this series as well as point out some things on which I will need to comment further. In particular, I read this post by John Hobbins that references a post by Wayne Leman regarding complementarianism and the “plain sense” of scripture. I want to distinguish what I mean by “obvious exegesis” from the idea of “plain sense” and define what I would mean by either one. One should note, of course, that what I mean by those terms may differ from the way others use similar terms.

One might ask why I would bring in a second controversial topic when I started with evolution. Here, at least, there is a method to my madness. I think it’s very important to check out methods of interpretation by applying them to other texts and other topics. Very often we change our approach to interpretation when the topic or text changes–always a bad sign.

I recall one online discussion about plain text of scripture in which the texts were limited to the Sermon on the Mount. The individual with whom I was discussing started with Matthew 5:33-37. He told me I was in violation because I said I would take an oath as a juror, or in the unlikely event I took a public office.

No discussion worked, even to the point of getting him to understand the possibility that someone else might understand the application of the text differently. He appealed to the “plain sense,” and after several rounds of discussion defined this as the way an average American high school student would understand the text.

So I pointed him to Matthew 5:29-30 in which Jesus says to pluck out your right eye if it offends, or to cut off your hand. How would the average high school student understand that command? Now he had a very complex explanation which involved fulfillment of the command through the willingness to face martyrdom for one’s faith–a much more allegorical explanation than my view that 33-37 is a hyperbolic way of saying “Just tell the truth!”

One point here is that the “plain sense,” however defined, is very often not all that plain, and the way in which one comes to a “plain sense” in one text may differ substantially from the way in which one discovers it in another.

But further, the idea of plain sense is not the same as what I mean here by “obvious exegesis.” People have very little patience for distinguishing between the historical meaning of a text and it’s application, but the distinction is important. These terms are not always used consistently, but I’m using “exegesis” to refer to that historical meaning, or more precisely the meaning of the original author to his or her audience.

That historical meaning is much easier to discern than is the application, but even so, one of the main points of this series is that it is not only difficult to define, such as whether one goes into the prehistory of a redacted text, but difficult to achieve once you’ve chosen the precise target. It simply isn’t always all that obvious what an ancient text means.

Application, which is usually in view when one hears “plain sense,” is even more complex than is the historical meaning. The fact is that one cannot keep all the commands in scripture. Many of them are obviously intended for particular times, but even amongst the rest there are many commands that do not work well together, or which we would even regard as evil, such as the death penalty for sabbath breaking.

This isn’t exactly a new problem, invented by modernist or liberal Christians (perhaps like me?) who want to avoid following the Bible, but don’t want to admit it. Acts 15 describes an early church conference at which the discussion was precisely about what commands would apply to what people, particularly gentiles. In 1 Corinthians, starting with chapter 8, Paul expresses a somewhat different theology on the issue. The arguments all around might be very similar to modern ones. One side might well have relied on the plain sense of scripture, while the other relied more on theological nuances.

Now the topic of John Hobbins’ and Wayne Leman’s posts, the complementarian vs egalitarian debate, is a good test case. Let me limit myself to Paul as an illustration.

There are egalitarians who believe Paul was actually an egalitarian, and that there are good explanations for all of his comments that make them consistent with egalitarianism. There are those who believe that Paul personally had a problem with women, but that egalitarianism is nonetheless the correct theological position today.

Complementarians generally would regard Paul as supportive of their position, but this depends to large extent on the idea that we today should do the same thing as Paul did in this particular case.

When I discussed my own position (very egalitarian), I cited Galatians 3:28, “no more . . . male or female” in support of my position. Do I think Paul intends here to support an egalitarian position? If so, why does he elsewhere forbid women to teach?

The fact is that I don’t think Paul is an egalitarian, or that he intends to support egalitarianism here. I think he got pretty close to erasing the Jew or Greek boundary, and probably anticipated seeing slave or free become equal in practice. I doubt he thought of a day when women would be pastors on an equal basis with men.

So how can I be egalitarian and also claim to give any authority to the Bible? Well, there are certainly many things that I think were appropriate for a particular time or place, but are not appropriate for others. What Paul taught in his pastoral messages to his churches is not good advice for he 21st century.

So I’m arrogant enough to put myself above Paul? Well, yes, in the sense that I live in the 21st century, and he most definitely didn’t. I get to look at my situation and my time and try to apply the principles that come from the gospel to what I find here.

I think Paul glimpsed this, and points to it in passages such as Galatians 3:28 or Romans 16:7 when he calls Junia as apostle. But the path to that application is nothing like direct, and nothing that I think anyone would define as the “plain sense.”

I believe it permits me to express the historical meaning without having to bend it to modern practice, while at the same time letting the gospel guide me beyond the word to a more appropriate application today.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that my point here is not to provide a substantial support for any particular position but rather to show that Biblical interpretation, from historical meaning to current application is much more complex in practice than most people believe, and that this complexity is not something new.

In later posts I will provide further examples of cases in which multiple and perhaps odd interpretations of scripture have been made within scripture itself and in the history of the church. I also want to discuss both the definition of inerrancy and its application in interpretation.

Can a Liberal Learn from Mark Driscoll?

Can a Liberal Learn from Mark Driscoll?

I’m using the dreaded “L” word for myself again, because if I was put up against [tag]Mark Driscoll[/tag] I would certainly come out as liberal, no matter how moderate I think I am. Regular readers of this blog know that I disagree with him on a substantial range of issues.

There’s a profile of Driscoll available on the Christianity Today web site (HT: Adrian Warnock). There’s some interesting things here, including most of the stuff on which I differ. Occasionally I stir people up through what I write on this blog, but in real life, I put much of my effort into reconciliation. I try to be a peacemaker in church. I’m not a [tag]Calvinist[/tag] by any stretch. Even good [tag]Arminian[/tag]s suspect me of heresy in the pelagian direction. I’m [tag]egalitarian[/tag], not [tag]complementarian[/tag], and if the bad guy is threatening the playground, I’m going to call 911 before mixing it up with them myself.

Yet there are a number of things one can learn here. Driscoll really believes what he is teaching, and I think the evidence is good that he cares about his church and the people of his community. He’s willing to meet them culturally, something that other church people ranging from right to left are not willing to do. To many of us church is our culture, and others have to leave the “world’s culture” and become part of the “church’s culture.” But we have no particular reason to assume that the church’s culture as we practice it is actually better than the world’s culture. Driscoll seems to have caught on to the fact that from the point of view of the church, especially the mainline church, reaching the person down the street is just as much cross-cultural ministry in many cases as is going overseas.

Nonetheless, I deplore Driscoll’s position on women in leadership and in ministry. I believe it would be quite possible for the church to articulate and practice a strong theology of family and of leadership without wedding itself to the single model of the dominant male. At the same time, egalitarians sometimes behave as though men don’t need to learn any leadership and even foster the “let women take care of spiritual things” attitude. We need to learn to respond to those attitudes.

Too often what we practice is not the empowerment of all people to use the gifts God has given them and to follow God’s call on their lives, but it is rather a “let those who will do it go ahead.” We’re afraid to challenge men in spiritual leadership because we might sound too much like Driscoll. I am willing to confess to weakness when it’s there, but in this case, I’m not myself confessing to this practice. I have regularly preached that men need to be ready to get up on Sunday morning and lead their families to church. They need to be actively involved in both church life and in the moral life of their family and community.

A family can only be properly led when both father and mother take up their appropriate gifts. But this does not allow looking down on supposedly “feminized” men either. That male leadership can involve the man cleaning the house, doing the dishes, changing diapers and helping get the children dressed. It might involve a husband getting the children to Wednesday night activities because the wife is working or out of town on a business trip.

In other words this is another part of modern culture that we could meet with the gospel, rather than try to change into a first century image that exists largely in our own minds.

I would suggest reading the Christianity Today article asking yourself this: “How can I make my spiritual life connect more with the age? What are the essentials of my spiritual and ethical beliefs, and what are just my church culture?” All of us could do with such a checkup.