Book review: Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry


womenBourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry.  By Michael F. Bird.  Zondervan, 2012. $4.22 (On Kindle here).

Michael Bird often splits the pack with much of his theology.  In this readable and brief book Bird claims to do the same by seeking to find a middle ground between the often polarised perspectives of women in ministry.  This book is suitable for lay people who are seeking to understand how one might defensibly hold a somewhat egalitarian position.  However, this book is also useful for pastors and ministers that have assumed a position without thinking through the other side’s point of view.

The thesis of the book is that Paul not only endorsed women teaching in churches, but ‘Paul specifically encouraged it!’  In other words, Paul’s clear use of women in teaching roles must be integrated into any Pauline perspective of women in ministry.

After laying out his own journey from a complimentarian view towards a more egalitarian view Bird defines the terms and the spectrum on which they are found. This is a concise and helpful summary of the main players and their perspective of the debate.

In chapter 2, Bird presents the complimentarian reader with a conundrum, which is that Paul used a woman to deliver, read and expound his theological masterpiece – Romans – to the church in Rome (Romans 16:1-2).  This cameo by Phoebe is the ground-breaker that Bird uses to open the door to engage the idea that perhaps women can play a more substantial teaching role than complimentarians might suggest.

Bird then engages with the primary Pauline texts in this debate.  In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Bird argues that Paul is not creating a hierarchy, but rather couplets, in which the head is honored.  Because Paul is not articulating a hierarchy (God at the top and women at the bottom), Bird contends that this passage cannot be used to limit the role that women might play in ministry.  On the contrary, women and men alike are permitted and able to engage in the same ministries by maintaining their God-given gender identity according to the cultural norms and by ministering according to their gifts in an orderly fashion.

Regarding I Corinthians 14:33-36 the issue of the interpolation stands out.  Even though this might solve Bird’s issue, he simply but effectively plays away the notion that the difficult verses of 33b-35 are an inserted interpolation by calling upon textual and internal evidence.  He treats the difficult verses in another way.  By drawing upon the reason behind Paul’s instruction for women on how to carry themselves in public worship, Bird mounts his case.  Women must honor their husband in their public use of speech.  Bird states: ‘It is the type of speaking and not the possibility of wives speaking that Paul prohibits.’

The third text that Bird deals with is Ephesians 5:21-24.  Whereas this passage is often called upon to explicate the submission of women to their husbands, Bird calls the readers’ attention to verse 21, which calls for mutual submission.  He defends this notion of mutual submission by referring to other passages like 1 Corinthians 7:4 and 11:11.  Bird also draws upon some anecdotal evidence to show how submission to the head of the house often meant submitting to a woman.  If the church was lead by the head of the house (i.e. Chloe in 1 Corinthians 1, 7 and 11) then it is no surprise to learn that there were sanctioned woman leaders in the early churches.

Before Bird moves on to Galatians 3:26-29, he makes note of Paul’s female co-workers who had teaching roles in the church, where he returns to more fully deal with Phoebe’s role in the delivery of Romans to the church in Rome.  When Bird turns his attention to Galatians, he argues that this passage is primarily dealing with soteriology.  What determines if one is in Christ or not?  Not race, gender or societal position.  But while this text has soteriological emphasis, Bird claims it also has ecclesiological implications.  If men and women are one in Christ then gender cannot be the quality that dictates ministry roles.

Finally, Bird looks at the 1 Timothy 2:11-15 text that at first glance is a knockout blow to the egalitarian cause.  Bird begins his defence by looking at the perspective that God’s created order was the driving argument in this text, instead of one that was culturally confined.  This appeal to creation, however, is not in line with 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and the command for women to cover their heads on the grounds of the created order.  The command in this instance is obviously culturally driven and therefore not universally applicable, and so Bird argues that an appeal to the creation principle does not necessarily imply a universal application.

Bird’s second defence is somewhat logical.  He says that a decision to restrict women from teaching should be consistent at all levels and all contexts, both religious and secular.  If this is a divine principle embedded in creation then it should translate to all spheres of existence.  In the end, Bird denies that the driving argument in this text is one that appeals to creation, but rather is one that is embedded in the cultural issues of the time.  Women may not teach men if they are teaching false doctrine with a view to gain superiority over men as was the custom in Ephesus at the time.

This book argues against a simple reading of the relevant texts.  Bird’s persistent calling for consistency with regard to the use of the created order to defend a complimentarian perspective is convincing, as is his call for consistency in implementing this divine order.  While these arguments dent the complimentarian view, Bird’s own argument is weakened by the speculative nature of having to depend on cultural reconstructions.  While he aims at a middle ground between the egalitarian and the complimentarian perspectives, Bird does not demonstrate why the lead pastor, bishop or other such figure should be male, even though this is his preference.  If one was to take his arguments at face value one might well have to argue for equal opportunity in these roles too.

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A little bit of anathema never hurt anybody


Let him be anathema!

Two weeks ago I was sitting in a cafe talking about Jesus to a young aspiring school leaver who was heading to a Bulgarian Orthodox seminary.  I forget the exact details of the discussion, but the gist stays with me.  He was telling me that God, who is wholly other, is unknowable – classic EO line.  When I probed a little further about who Jesus was and what he revealed of God he said it… Jesus could not reveal God as God.

Needless to say we had a hearty discussion.

Interestingly, today I was reading up on some Karl Rahner (RC theologian and priest) and he observed that most Christians (RCs? Although I think his observation would apply to the protestant side too) struggle to capture an orthodox understanding of Jesus’ humanity and divinity.  He asserts that the majority of Christians would subscribe to a Docetic Jesus where God’s divinity inhabits the fleshly vessel.  God in human clothes made of skin.  Jesus was not fully human, just kind of.

Then you would know about the Elephant Room saga, where Mark Driscoll questioned T. D. Jakes on his view of the doctrine of God, in particular his views on the doctrine of Oneness.  The Oneness doctrine rejects the concept of the Trinity and instead subscribes to a modal view of God.  The entire discussion did little to clarify the situation, but what we do know is that Jakes subscribes to a doctrine of God that uses the terminology of ‘manifestations’ as opposed to persons.

How did the church in times gone by deal with these theological bents?  Simple, ‘Let him be anathema!’

The best example of the ‘Let him be anathema!’ cry is found in Cyril of Alexandria’s work called the Twelve Anathemas.  He was not dealing with a Docetist, but the father of Nestorianism, Nestorius himself.  I don’t intend to go into the content of the letter to Nestorius but Cyril’s view was clear.  Nestorius believed that Jesus had two separate and autonomous natures.  According to Cyril (eventually), Nestorius needed to adopt the position that Christ had two natures but that these were without division or separation.  Cyril’s letter outlines in no uncertain terms how Nestorius could go about working towards reforming his position.  Each of the twelve points ended with ‘Let him be anathema!’  A sure sign that Cyril meant business.

The point?  You get stuff wrong you get the anathema line.

But what was Cyril saying?  My way or the highway?  Are the Twelve Anathemas the sharp words of just another arrogant bigoted fundamentalist?  An intolerant absolutist?

In Cyril’s day, despite Ehrman’s current commentary to the contrary, there was one Lord, one faith, one church, one orthodoxy.  In the 5th century this was defined for the most part by the c. 325 Council of Nicaea, as well as the collective works of the fathers in the 200 odd years prior to it.  Orthodoxy was not some ambiguous thing that any one individual could trump up and it was for this reason that the powers that be could compare an individual’s theology with that of the orthodox tradition.  If someone fell outside of the bounds they were met with the severe response: Let him be anathema!

The point is that in those times messing up your doctrine of God was serious business with serious, potentially eternal, repercussions.  The church new this and the proponents of the heterodox views knew this also.

What has changed?  A lot and nothing.

Nothing has changed in that the issues are just as serious.  Fiddling with orthodox views of the divinity and humanity of Christ and the Trinity, for example, is not to be done flippantly as though it were a choice of strawberry or chocolate.  What we see in the first millennium and a half is an urgency coupled with a holy fear to be faithful to how the great theological minds throughout history conceptualised God in Scripture.  Surely our attitude should be the same!  We have the privileged of enjoying the longevity of these views – you know the old line, standing on the shoulders of giants.

Furthermore,  nothing has changed in that Arianism is still as heretical as it was in the 3rd and 4th centuries.  Docetism is still errant.  Nestorianism 1500 years on has not become any more faithful to the text of Scripture then it was in the 5th century.  History for the believer is not simply about dates, times and events.

History plays a role in what we believe, but also importantly in what and why we don’t believe.

We also see that nothing has changed with regard to the very specific use of anathema in the Bible.  Here are two apt usages:

  • Gal. 1:8-9But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema). 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed (anathema).
  • 1 Cor. 16:22,  If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha.

But something has changed!

One can openly deny the doctrine of the Trinity and hold to Oneness views of God and still be counted as a part of the church.  One can grow up in a church and hold to Docetic views of Christ unchallenged.  We no longer here the damning cry, ”Let him be anathema!’

I wonder why?

Well, it probably doesn’t surprise you, but I have some suggestions:

  1. Perhaps it’s a mark of our age of tolerance.  You can believe what you want over there and I’ll be over here believing what I want.
  2. Worse, perhaps it reflects our age’s characteristic pervasive interpretive pluralism.
  3. Perhaps it points to our poor theological training systems.  I mean, where do people learn that historically damned views can be considered as viable orthodox theology?
  4. Maybe, as we observe in many of our denominations, the little or no doctrinal accountability  has come back to bite us.  Ok, you can try to win me over on any form of church governance, but it is clear that the NT teachers submitted to the top dogs when it came to theology.  When they were in error they (and we) knew about it.
  5. Or could it be as elementary as not knowing our church history.

Time to bring it back – ‘Let him be anathema!’ for God’s sake!

Church: Megadeth and Me


HOMOGENEITY

1.  The quality or state of being homogeneous.

2.  The state of having identical cumulative distribution function or values.

Someone needs to tell Mirriam-Webster to not use cognates of the word being defined in the definition.  It kinda defeats the point of a definition!

What Mirriam-Webster is trying to say is that homogeneity is a state of likeness; where the component parts are similar.  Uniformity.

So for example, the crowd at a Megadeath concert would be somewhat homogenous.  Tight black jeans, t-shirts with skulls, daggers, and snakes.  There would be mullets aplenty.  You’d see plenty of ink, steel, and leather too.  This is a rather homogenous picture, one that I happily wouldn’t fit into:)

You might also say that two different companies are homogenous.  They have similar business structures, target consumers, and work practices.  You might also look at a local church, perhaps your own, and see that it consists of a similar kind of people.  The word used as an adjective in this instance would look like this:  I am a part of a homogenous church.

Story.

I was a part of a church plant not that long ago.  Before the church was off the ground one team member asked, ‘What kind of church is it going to be?’  When some clarifying questions were fired her way about what she meant by the word ‘kind’ she explained that we needed to focus on children, families, or young professionals or someone.  She was wanting to narrow the focus of the church plant to one group of people.

Interesting.

This focus is not an uncommon thing in church plants or even in existing churches.  Churches often target particular groups of people.  Individual services are also found to have a particularly narrow target group.  Let’s not be fooled, this is a growth strategy.  We employ all sorts of strategies to grow our churches and in this case the strategy is to target particular sections of society based upon age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or whatever you ‘like’.

Break it down.

We are talking here about an attractional model of church.  Basketballers will feel comfortable and will feel like they belong to a local church if there are basketballers already there.  If we have artists and musicians – we will attract the same.  Families with children will attract families with children.  It’s a great strategy because it panders to my overwhelming desire to belong to something that is like me.  It thinks, dresses, is in the same stage of life, enjoys the same things, and/or has the same theology, as me.

This strategy banks on the idea that like will attract like.  The result is – like.

Homogeneity.

The homogenous church can be achieved intentionally or naively.  We can target basketballers and in five years time have a raging sports ministry program and have basketballers coming out of our ears.  We can also live, talk and do church in such a way that we naively marginalise and push others who are not like ourselves to the side, while accepting those that are like ourselves.  We achieve the same outcome of homogeneity, but by different means: intentionally and naively.

If homogeneity is something that the Bible gives the green light to, then we should take an interest in how we get there.  It matters how we implement our strategy of homogeneity.  We need to do it intentionally so that we can lovingly and with care inform those who do not fit in that there are other churches that will accept them.  Perhaps, it might be appropriate to let them know that they can still be a part of what is going on at our church even if they will not entirely fit in and find a sense of belonging.  This is hard news to take and so we should be sensitive to their needs.

Please tell me you’ve picked up the tongue-in-cheek!

I think the reality of the situation is that the Bible does not give the green light to the concept of homogeneity in church as we see it around us.  Let me show you some evidence for what I think is a terribly skewed strategy and idea of what is means to do and be church.

Firstly, the primary way that Paul refers to church is as a gathering (see previous post) of unlike members.  For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 we get a very graphic image of what the Corinthian church is.  Paul is not offering the church that it can be something if the church so decides, not at all.  It is a body that has many parts.

In another church, this time the church in Ephesus, Paul describes the church as needing to build up the body in order to be more mature.  The purpose of this building up is so that the church would be prepared to do the work of believers, and also so that it would find maturity in unity, which is described later as growing into the head, which is Christ.  This body that grows and matures is reliant upon ‘each part do[ing] its work’ (4:16).

We should understand church as a group of parts.

There is however talk of likeness and homogeneity, but not in terms of what looks like: me, a musician, an artist, a young professional, someone who is single or a basketballer.  The homogenous character that everyone is to be like is Jesus.

We see this everywhere.  Take Philippians 2:1 for example.  Unity and oneness is achieved and realised by knowing what it is to be united to Christ.  Is this not the point of the much flaunted Galatians 3:28: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’.  Based on what?  We are all in (v26) and belong to (v29) Christ.

Homogeneity is biblical, but not as we might expect.  Oneness or unity is not a result of clothing preference, musical ability or your age, but whether or not we are found in Christ.

Now there’s a church strategy worth pursuing.

It is worth considering what effect the presence of homogeneity (gender, age, ethnicity, walk of life, employment and socio-economic strata, education, theological, etc) in our churches has on the realisation of the biblical mandate of Christlike homogeneity.