Friday, February 22, 2013

Women in Ministry - Book Review

My opinion is still in progress.

But when I read the arguments against egalitarianism, I want to pull my hair out! ...or at least write a blog about it. My recent reading adventure has been in Women in Ministry: Four Views edited by Robert G. and Bonnidell Clouse. All four authors believe in the authority of scripture. 

The Traditional View: Robert D. Culver
I almost appreciate Culver’s honesty for giving an actual reason (other than "God says so") for restricting women's ministry. The reason is awful, but at least he admits what other men is his position may be secretly thinking.

The first passage up for debate, 1 Timothy 2:11-14,  states that a women can’t have authority or teach, and references Eve in the creation story. To interpret this passage, Culver quotes a theology text by Bengel: "The deception [of Eve] indicates a lesser ability in comprehension, and so this limitation is why it is not allowable for a women to teach." In other words, Adam sinned knowingly, and Eve ignorantly.

Culver added that this is an "essential difference between masculine and feminine nature." The main difference between men and women is that women are less intelligent? Or more gullible? (To be honest, at this point, I lose interest in hearing anything else he has to say, except for the enjoyment of disagreeing with it.)

It's hard for Culver to accept anything new. He quoted from Thomas C. Oden, "Our ideas about pastoral ministry must by all means avoid... creativity or innovation." I agree that ministers shouldn’t do something new just for the sake of change or shock value. Yet it is hubris to assume that the current way of doing things is the best possible. We should learn from “traditional” views, but not adore them.

A Male Leadership View: Susan Foh
Again, I find it difficult to engage with this set of arguments. Foh’s hypocrisy is evident. She has given herself permission to write books, but tells us it's wrong for a women to stand in the pulpit and preach exactly what she preaches on paper. She writes with authority, yet says it's wrong for women to have authority.

As usual, the 1 Timothy passage is not treated literally. (I don't know of any churches which actually make women be silent.) Foh insists the passage commands submission, not silence.
More interesting than her arguments for her view was the complex legalism necessary to make this work in a church. Foh gives permission for a women to teach men, but only if done in certain ways and certain settings. An example:
The position of Sunday-school teacher [for adults] requires special attention... The Sunday-school teacher does not enforce his or her teachings with church discipline. It has a more informal, nonofficial, open-to-discussion character... than the official teaching of the ministry during the worship service... if a denomination or church wishes to extend the time and place for official teaching into the Sunday school, the teaching should be done by an elder and women should not participate, even in asking questions.
Maybe this is difficult for me to understand because I've never been part of a church which focused so much on pastor/elder authority. Although I would never ask questions during a sermon (because it's rude, not because I'm a woman), I have often asked questions or disagreed with points in sermon with my pastor. He's happy to discuss it with me, and if we still disagree at the end, that’s okay. Is Foh not allowed to question anything her pastor says? That sounds unhealthy to me.

In the end, her definition of authority is both confusing and frightening to me. I don't think any leader should have the kind of authority she denies to women. Men throughout history have abused authority.

A Plural Ministry View: Walter Liefeld
This leads well into Liefeld's essay. He basically argues that all leadership positions are contrary to Christ's teachings about earthly power.  Liefeld states that "The New Testament church did not ordain people to positions of authority, but designated people to positions of service."

Liefeld has an interesting interpretation about Paul's commands for women's behavior in church. Paul tried to be all things to all people in order to win them to Jesus. Liefeld suggests the 1 Timothy restrictions were meant "avoid hindering the people of his day from accepting the gospel of Christ." This suggests that in that culture, granting leadership to women would have been too extreme or controversial, and distracted people from the gospel. But today, "the situation is reversed: to prohibit a woman from having the same dignity and opportunity in church as she does in society is a stumbling block to many people."

Maybe Liefeld goes too far. I know that God does grant authority in scripture (encourage and rebuke, give instructions, etc.) yet defining exactly what sort of authority leaders should have is difficult. I don’t know if all church leadership is unbiblical- of if that’s even what Liefeld is trying to say. Maybe he is only pointing out problems with it, and what an unhealthy view of authority can have.

The word translated "authority" in 1 Timothy is a Greek word used no where else in scripture. Central to this debate is an argument of whether or not that word has a positive or negative connotation. If it's a negative meaning, that women shouldn’t have a sort of bossy, dominating authority, I agree. And neither should men. But if it's the authority to share the gospel, to correct error, to teach scripture with understanding... why restrict 50% of believers from spreading God's Kingdom in this way?

An Egalitarian View: Alvera Mickelson
The Genesis texts before the Fall are often argued on this topic. Mickelson makes two excellent observations that suggest that the second-class treatment of women throughout history is a result of living in a broken world, not according to God's design.

First, in Genesis 1, God gave to man and woman together identical responsibilities (to be fruitful, to rule, to fill the earth and subdue it). Second, in the description of why Adam need Eve in Genesis 2, the Hebrew word for "helper" does not have a subordinate meaning. The word appears twenty-one times in the Old Testament,  and seventeen of those times, it refers to God as our helper. (Obviously, God is not subordinate to man.)

Mickelson also makes personal criticisms of the way many churches assign women certain roles. "Traditionally women can plan and greatly influence almost any church activity so long as they can remain invisible." This suggests not that women are incapable or irresponsible for leadership, but that they shouldn’t be recognized for it. Yet scripture honors women who used their gifts for God’s glory.

Both Mickelson and Liefeld made excellent lists of women in scripture fulfilling roles many would have forbidden to them. Some of these include the Samaritan women in John 4 who was an evangelist by returning to her home town and telling everyone about Jesus. Mary Magdalene was sent (like an apostle) to tell the disciples of Christ's resurrection. Priscilla taught an important early church leader good doctrine. (And corrected him in the midst of his bad doctrine.)

Perhaps there isn’t a clear historical precedent for the amount of changes that we are seeing today. And there are always examples of leaders who abuse their power and do wrong. But I feel that the desire to withhold authority from women is made in fear of losing it for oneself.

Jesus called [his disciples] together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  --Matthew 20:25-28

Note: Pastor Barbie images posted just because I like them. No deeper meanings intended.