I guess blogging is as good a place to be introspective and anecdotal as anywhere else, right? I’ve decidedly chosen to “think out loud” here at ThinkTheology.org for a number of years now, so this isn’t really all that new. I’ve written in the past about why I think the “gospel-centered” movements should abandon complementarianism as their default, about why I think William Webb’s redemptive movement hermeneutical model is applicable to complementarians, and discussed why I appreciated “compassionate” complementarianism. Even when I was describing myself as a “soft complementarian,” I was enjoying what egalitarians were saying about trajectory hermeneutics. I even reported my two days of being an “egalitarian” husband and father (day 1 and day 6) in addition to my acknowledgement that our presuppositions play a huge role in how we approach this subject. As these links attest, I’ve done my share of constructive criticism toward complementarianism as well as talked about poor arguments made by egalitarians. As you can tell, I’ve been interested in the subject of women in ministry for a long time. Eight years ago I was a convinced complementarian. Five years ago I was a soft complementarian. For the past two years I’ve been “undecided.” Currently I’d describe myself in the following way:
“I am convinced that the best biblical scholarship, most robustly well-rounded theologically informed arguments, and the consistent witness from church history and my own experience leads me to conclude that women can (and should) serve in all leadership roles within the church, as the Spirit empowers.”
Farewell Luke Geraty.
In order to be entirely transparent here, since this is my introspective anecdotal self-reflection, I should state that I have been avoiding this post like it was the plague! I have many, many, many friends who are strongly complementarian whose friendship I value deeply. And I have egalitarian acquaintances (some are friends even!) who, unfortunately, deeply misrepresent complementarians and I do not want to add to that. I absolutely refuse to use either of those labels (Complementarian or Egalitarian) because they are so charged… and misleading… and carry far too much baggage.
So in keeping with our ThinkTheology.org triad of biblical, theological, and practical reflections, here are my brief reasons for supporting women in ministry in all areas of leadership:
Biblical Evidence for Women in Ministry
As I’ve spent considerable time doing my exegetical homework, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Bible supports the idea of women in ministry as well as serving in senior leadership roles. Throughout the Bible I read God using women in leadership as well as working alongside (and sometimes over) men.
And yes, I have read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Equal Yet Different and a myriad of other books, articles, essays, and position papers in support of Complementarianism. Many of these resources offer some great exegetical insights and are certainly worth reading and weighing. It’s certainly difficult to disagree with scholars like Moo, Carson, Schreiner, Ortlund, Grudem, Piper, etc.
But the more that I have considered the exegetical arguments and read the Bible, the more I’ve become increasingly unable to accept Complementarian readings. I mean, there seems to be some pretty loosey-goosey exegesis when it comes to dealing with the apostle Junia (Rom. 16:7; cf. McKnight’s Junia is Not Alone), Priscilla and Aquilla (Acts 18:26), and the implications of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-18). I’ve also come to the place where I actually disagree with Complementarians that essentially don’t see both Pentecost or Gal. 3:28 as having something to say regarding this topic. For these reasons, I’m no longer a soft-Complementarian.
However, I do want to acknowledge that I still find 1 Timothy 2’s prohibition for women teaching men, and 1 Cor. 14:33-35, challenging. I’ll gladly acknowledge that it’s a difficult text, for both Complementarians and Egalitarians. After all, the passage says that (1) women shouldn’t teach men and (2) women will be saved by having babies. That’s problematic for all sides, I think.
But the more I studied the text, the more I became convinced that there is a cultural context which is important. Plus, the arguments about Paul’s use of creation weren’t nearly as convincing as I thought. As Bird states:
“Paul also appeals to creation in 1 Corinthians 11: 3– 16 in order to establish that women should wear head coverings. Yet all commentators who have done a basic course in hermeneutics acknowledge that the issue of head coverings is culturally restricted to the Greco-Roman environment of Corinth… Thus the appeal to the order of creation in 1 Timothy 2: 13 does not require that the proscription about women teaching men must be uniformly applicable to all Christians at all times, since a broader principle may be what we are meant to take away. William Mounce concedes that “the context thus limits the universal application to some extent,” since elsewhere women did teach (Acts 18: 26; Col. 3: 16; 2 Tim. 1: 5; 3: 15; Titus 2: 3– 4).” (Bird, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry)
I should add that Bird’s book is, in my estimation, one of the most helpful treatments of the subject and his arguments largely won me over as they were, I think, the most convincing exegetical reflections. I also found that while I really respected Complementarian scholars, I also found that Egalitarian scholars existed and were doing significant academic work on this issue. For example, William Webb, Gordon D. Fee, Roger Nicole, Craig Keener, Don Williams, Michael Bird, Walter Kaiser, etc.
At any rate, my inclination is that church leadership should exist in teams, and that those teams should feature men and women serving, leading, and loving congregations. I think this is the most biblical expression of “biblical” leadership in the church (note the quotation marks please).
Theological Evidence for Women in Ministry
My theological evidence is based primarily on my reading (and rereading) of the biblical texts as that is part of my methodology in relation to the hermeneutical spiral (two thumbs up for Grant Osborne’s The Hermeneutical Spiral; by the way, Osborne is an Egalitarian). Here are a couple of brief reasons:
- Imago Dei. The fact that men and women are created in the image of God is significant for me (Gen. 1:27).
- Pentecost. As I already noted, the fact that the Spirit indwells and empowers women and men is significant. In fact, I think it tends to be one of the most important related theological issues.
- Missio Dei. From early on, women were immediately involved in the mission of God. Throughout the NT we read of women’s full participation in spreading the message of Jesus and his kingdom.
- Jesus’ Resurrection. It’s amazing to me that in the culture of 1st century Palestine, the first witnesses to the Resurrection were… *drum roll*… women. And women are the ones who witnessed of the Resurrection to a bunch of hopeless disciples who would soon become Apostles.
There are other theological reasons, but these stand out as being the four most prominent and significant.
Practical Evidence for Women in Ministry
First, the bottom line for me is that Complementarian praxis is just too impossible or illogical for me to maintain. I’ve been told by numerous Complementarians that women can’t teach men because women are “easily” deceived and then told that women can teach children though. What? Women can’t teach men because they are easily deceived but they can teach children who are not easily deceived? Uh… okay. Bird writes,
“As to the complementarian and egalitarian application of this text, I am going to try to thread an exegetical needle between them. I think it is worth pointing out that complementarians themselves qualify or tone down the full implications of their view, and herein is the weakness of their position. For example, some complementarians allow a woman to teach men indirectly through books, radio, and websites but will not permit them to teach men in person. A woman can write a commentary on Hebrews to be read by men but cannot preach or teach men on Hebrews. A woman can be president, a prime minister, a CEO, a general, or a police officer, but she cannot serve as a pastor. A woman can teach men French or piano lessons but not the Bible or theology. A woman can teach Bible and doctrine to unbelieving men but not to Christian men. The problem I have here is that some complementarians appeal to Genesis and the order of creation to show that it is inherently wrong for a woman to be in a position of authority over a man, and yet they only apply that restriction to church life or Sunday worship. But that is like saying that it is okay for someone to commit adultery as long as they do not do it on Sunday or in the church auditorium. Or it is like saying that it is okay to commit adultery as long as you do it with an unbeliever. If it is such a clear violation of God’s ordering of creation for a woman to have authority over a man, then this should apply to all spheres of life whether it is business, government, politics, civil service, or church because God is sovereign over all institutions, and all of life is lived before God and under God.” (Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry)
Plus, I have been very fortunate to observe some amazing women in leadership as well as observe the Spirit both empowering and using them in significant leadership ways.
For example, the regional overseer of the Midwest North Region of the Vineyard is Brenda Gatlin. Brenda is a great teacher, wise leader, and extremely helpful. She cares deeply about the Church, both those in the Vineyard tribe and those in other tribes. She operates as an effective senior level leader alongside her husband and has modeled consistent character in my observation over the last few years. She’s orthodox, evangelical, charismatic, and just plain great. God has used Brenda to demonstrate what healthy and effective leadership looks like.
Another one of my friends, Aimee Tiernan, has exemplified the character traits of a great pastor and counselor in so many ways I don’t even know where to begin. In fact, it was Aimee who really helped me understand better the plight that many women leaders experience. Even in a movement that has publicly came out in support of women in ministry, there are some who have been less than gracious toward those who have sensed God’s calling and have been released into ministry! Aimee, in fact, has given me tons of advice over the years in relation to pastoral care and counseling. She’s amazing (and her husband, Scott, is great too!).
Also, I have two words for anyone who believes that women can’t or shouldn’t be in leadership: MaryJo Burchard. Boom. End of story. PhD. Wife. Mother. Genius. Leader. Smarter than all of the men I know. MaryJoy is one of the most gifted people I know. She’s like… a ninja.
Did I also mention Beth Stovell? Oh, I didn’t? Well now I am and if you don’t know who Beth is, you need to clock in (check here). She’s a biblical scholar (both OT and NT!!!) as well as excellent in areas related to hermeneutics (full disclosure, Beth edited a book on hermeneutics and also helped me think about ideas related to the Vineyard and hermeneutics in a paper I recently wrote, though all weaknesses are my own).
In addition to these four women, I should also mention that I have an amazing mother (and mother-in-law), a super-amazing-and-beautiful-and-smart-and-fun wife, and three of the best daughters ever to exist in the world… plus I have five amazing sisters. I’m sure that some Complementarians will suggest I am simply a product of my “egalitarian” context (i.e., woman dominated world).
Oh, and many of the women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the Society of Vineyard Scholars have been pretty amazing. There are too many to name…
I realize that most of this last section has to do with… experience (*gasp*). Yep. You are correct. I do admit that experience plays a role in my understanding of the discernment process (see the Wesleyan Quadrilateral or even Luther’s Trilateral or any work on epistemology). I’m basically just acknowledging what everyone actually does, though some tend to think they live in a world where experience and other presuppositions don’t affect them (yeah right!).
But I want to make a very important and clear point: I am not a Complementarian because the Bible has led me to a different understanding. And, in response to the slippery slope arguments so often employed, I still align myself with broad Evangelicalism, hold to what Vanhoozer has called “well-versed” inerrancy (or reasonable or informed inerrancy), and affirm the five solas of the Reformation. In other words, I’m still pretty much the same as I’ve always been.
I am actually pretty passionate about respecting both my Complementarian and Egalitarian friends and hope that, in the future, I can help facilitate gracious discussions on the subject. I do not believe my primary focus (or even secondary focus) is to either be divisive in the larger ecclesial world or to make this my hobby horse. I have simply written this to (1) recommend Michael Bird’s Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry and (2) to make a clarification on my perspective in light of some questions that some of my friends, family, and church members have asked me.
I’d love to hear your story and reasons for why you hold to your own position, whether it’s Complementarianism or Egalitarianism. As long as you can be respectful in your interaction, everyone is welcome to weigh in!
- What’s the biggest challenge to your position?
- What’s the biggest challenge to the position that you don’t hold to?
- Did you purchase Bird’s little book yet? After all, it’s only $2.99!