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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.

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  1. Henry,

    I do believe passionately that God is leading us to more equality in ministry.


    Readers of this blog will realize that I’m not terribly moderate on this particular issue–I’m passionately egalitarian.

    Do you believe that equality is the norm at the eschaton? Why?

  2. I should thank Peter Kirk for directing me here. Unlike him, I think my post and yours complement each other, though we take different emphases. But I’m delighted to discover your blog.

  3. Do you believe that equality is the norm at the eschaton? Why?



    Because I think that was the original ideal, and I think that is the trajectory on which Biblical and church history has us going.

    Of course, by “equality” I do not mean sameness or identity, merely that no calling of God is excluded a priori for any of God’s children.

  4. Peter,

    I think the problem here is that what I’m advocating is much more difficult to do and leaves more room for personal disagreement. If I can say “Paul would have rejected women as teachers in one or more of his churches” and yet I do not, then it automatically looks like I’m rejecting Paul.

    I absolutely do not believe I’m rejecting Paul. What I’m saying is that he lived in a different world than I do, and we both have to apply kingdom principles to the world in which we find ourselves. I even grant Paul’s applications more authority, because he was an apostle, and I am so thoroughly not!

    It seems to me that on reading Doug’s post, the comments on it, your comment here and his, that we are expressing something at least very similar. The problem always comes in guarding the edges of what one says. I think someone could read my post as a rejection of the apostle Paul. I’m taking Doug’s word (and also some of his comments) that he is not intending to reject Biblical evidence.

    Of course I will note that I have only read one post by him, so I don’t know that much yet. I will certainly be reading more.

  5. It looks complementary to me as well. Check my note to Peter. I will certainly be reading more on your blog so surely we’ll find something to disagree about later! 🙂

  6. Thanks for the clarifications from both of you. Yes, I am happy to accept that your approaches are complementary, though not complementarian. See also my further comment on Doug’s blog.

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