Egalitarianism

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Proverbs 31 destroys preconceived “Biblical Womanhood”

deborah-beneath-palm-tree-james-jacques-joseph-tissot

Deborah, leading the people of Israel

There are some who advocate a notion of “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” with strict definitions of what roles men and women should occupy. Representative is John Piper, a leading voice in the movement named “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” In his essay “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible,” Piper writes about “biblical” manhood:

When my father came home he was clearly the head of the house… (32, cited below)

[W]hen there is no bread on the table, it is the man who should feel the main pressure to do something to get it there… a man will feel his personhood compromised if he… becomes dependent over the long haul… on his wife’s income. (42)

Shockingly, Piper even goes so far as to say that:

“[E]ven where a Christian wife may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, she can still have a spirit of submission–a disposition to yield” (47).

Piper alleges that biblical womanhood follows this pattern:

A mature woman is glad when a respectful, caring, upright man… provides a pattern of appropriate initiatives in their relationship. (48)

[She is to follow] Biblical submission[, which] for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through… (53)

From Piper, we learn that “biblical” womanhood is to yield, to be led, not to be the head of the home, be provided for, indeed even to avoid situations in which a woman is closely leading a man in the office (52).

Proverbs 31 destroys this concept of what a “biblical” woman should be. In this astonishing passage, we read that  the ideal woman:

1. Takes care when selecting products to purchase (31:13)
2. Brings food to her family (31:14)
3. Provides for her family (31:15)
4. Appraises and purchases land (31:16)
5. Brings profitable gain (31:18)
6. Works with tools of various trades (31:18)
7. Helps the poor and needy (31:20)
8. Crafts goods to be used by the family (31:22)
9. Crafts goods to sell and is shrewd in selling them (31:24; 18)
10. Speaks and instructs with wisdom (31:26)
11. Watches over the ways of the household (31:27)
12. Above all, she fears the Lord (31:30)

Now remember, this is an “ideal” and of course no woman could be or do all of these things. This passage illustrates aspects of what a biblical woman would be.

Recall, though, the roles that have been defined for women by some complementarians–people who hold a view in which man and woman occupy different roles in the home and church, with men as leaders. Which of these are found in the description of woman in Proverbs 31? Let’s just do a quick comparison of a few (Piper citations from above):

Piper: [I]t is the man who should feel the main pressure to do something to get [bread on the table] 
Bible: “[The ideal wife/woman] gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family...” (31:15a)

Do women not share the pressure in putting bread on the table when the Bible describes ideal womanhood as a provider of food for her family without excluding the husband?

Piper: When my father came home he was clearly the head of the house…
Bible: “She watches over the affairs of her household…”(31:27a)

Does watching over the affairs of the household have an unwritten, unspoken clause that excludes men? 

Piper: [A] man will feel his personhood compromised if he… becomes dependent over the long haul… on his wife’s income.
Bible: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard… She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” (31:16; 18)

Does the wife/woman’s managing money, earning it, buying fields, ensuring profit, and staying up late into the night focusing on this profitable gain compromise her husband’s personhood?

Also interesting are the things that are not said. It doesn’t say the ideal woman yields to her husband when he does wrong, she rather brings him good, not harm (31:12). Sin is a harmful cycle, and to say women are to rebuke it, but yield because a man is the leader is perpetuating that cycle.

The question, then, becomes this: where are those like Piper, who make the statements quoted above getting their ideas from? Is Proverbs 31 biblical womanhood when it contradicts these notions, or are the Scriptural quotes above instead to be defined as the properly biblical womanhood?

The question is ‘how do we define Biblical Womanhood’? The answer: A buyer, seller, purveyor, manufacturer, innovator, leader, provider, entrepreneur, and above all, one of God.

You ask “What is Biblical womanhood?” I’ll tell you: Proverbs 31.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Check out my posts on egalitarianism – the belief that men and women are equally qualified and called in the church and home (scroll down for more).

On the Femnization of the Church- It is frequently alleged that the church is being “feminized” and that this is a bad thing. Check out this post, wherein I analyze this notion from a few different angles.

Source

John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by Piper and Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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On the Feminization of Christianity

worship-in-churchChristianity is being feminized–men just don’t go to church anymore!

Worship is so feminine now, with all of its appeals to emotions.

Christianity has a “masculine” feel to it.

I had a conversation recently in which several men were bemoaning the “feminization of Christianity,” particularly worship. I asked them what they meant by this and one man illustrated it with a story: he was at a church one time and this guy was up front singing this lovey-dovey song he had written about how Jesus loved him and wanted to hold him or something and he–the one telling the story–thought it was ridiculous. This, he said, was an example of the feminization of worship. It makes men leave the church.

I pointed out that his example was about a man singing a song written by a man–himself–leading worship in a church in which (the man had told me) the only leaders were men. He nodded and reiterated his point. …This, it seems, is the result of feminizing the church.

I thought that was rather odd, to be frank, but the conversation has stuck with me for its message. I’ve had many like it over the past year or two. I’ve seen fellow bloggers post on this apparently insidious trend of the “feminization of Christianity.” A prominent apologist recently issued a similar complaint, noting that worship has gotten more “emotional” and therefore more “feminine.” Some theologians and books I’ve read have had similar concerns about this “feminine” aspect being brought into churches. Apparently, from my reading of these sources and the conversations I’ve had, the message is that this is A Bad Thing.

Do you really think that Christianity is masculine? What does that even mean?

What does it mean to say worship is “feminine” or “masculine”? Does that mean that if I, a man, worship, then my praise is somehow “manly,” while my wife’s praise is “womanly”?

I want to focus on this notion that “feminization of Christianity” is A Bad Thing. What does this say about men and women?

It seems to me that if feminizing Christianity inherently makes it somehow deficient, then that means females are also deficient. If “feminized” worship is bad, or at least not as good as “masculine” worship–whatever either one of those things means–then that means that what are identified as male patterns of worship have higher value. But can such patterns really even be identified? If “feminization of the Church” is to be avoided, while making it more “masculine” is to be lauded, then what does that say about our position, male and female, as the image of God? On the one hand, humanity, male and female, were each created in God’s likeness, in the image of God. On the other, we are told that “feminine” themes within Christianity are to be avoided and downplayed, while “masculine” themes are to be pursued and emphasized.

The most common answer I’ve gotten to questions about the nature of masculine or feminine worship is that that which is feminine is emotional or passive, while masculine is rational or active. I would like to ask: how is this reflected in God’s Word? Recall that God gets angry (Psalm 7:11) or grieved by sin (Genesis 6:6), takes pleasure in obedience (Psalm 147:111), delights (Zephaniah 3:17), etc. God is a God with emotions and whether we set this aside as anthropomorphism or not, it seems clear that Scripture understands God not rejecting emotions but rather, in some sense, taking part in them. But if God’s Word does not denigrate emotions and even attributes them to God, why should we not worship in emotional ways? And why are emotions treated as something to be avoided, as necessarily feminine and somehow not good, or at least not as good as that which is identified as masculine?

I’m not trying to advocate for one side or the other in the so-called “worship wars.” Instead, my point is that the narrative of complaints about the “feminization of Christianity” is misguided and far from the truth. Being female is not bad, nor is it somehow less perfect than being male. Similarly, having a “feminine” Christianity is not an imperfection. To be honest, I’d like to call my Christian brothers and sisters to a more complete understanding of God and God’s word.

There is hope for us that applies to us all as people:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

These are words of hope, words of reconciliation. But they are also words which cut against the notion that in our church there is masculine worship vs. feminine worship; masculine music vs. feminine music; masculine sermons vs. feminine ones. “Nor is there male and female… you are all one in Christ Jesus.” My heart leaps at these words. These words tell me I need have no fear, for our God–a great God–has reconciled us in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Check out my posts on egalitarianism – the belief that men and women are equally qualified and called in the church and home (scroll down for more).

I found the image on Bing searching for images of worshipers in church and I claim no rights to it and saw no claims to rights upon it.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- What does “head” mean?

mwoc-1Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

What does “head” mean? 

I’ve been rereading Philip Payne’s monumental study of Paul’s letters in relation to the roles of men and women in the church and home,  Man and Woman, One in Christ. There is so much in this book to discuss I feel as though every single page deserves its own post. For now, I wanted to highlight his discussion of the meaning of “head” in the much-discussed 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Payne writes:

The majority view in recent scholarship has shifted to understand “head”… in this passage to mean “source” rather than “authority”… One reason for the popularity of [interpreting it as "authority"] is that in English, German, and Hebrew… the most common metaphorical meaning of “head” is “leader”… Interpreters who in their native tongue associate metaphorical uses of “head” with “leader” naturally make this association when reading this passage. (117-118, cited below)

In the book, Payne goes on to demonstrate why it is that the majority view has turned to viewing “head” as “source.” He provides 15 reasons to think this is the case. A few highlights include contemporary 1st-3rd century usage of the term, lexical support for “source” and lack thereof for “authority,” other usage within the Pauline epistles, difficulties raised by reading it as “authority,” and support for the meaning as “source” from a number of contemporary authors and Church Fathers. In the passage above, I think it’s interesting to see that one’s native language often imports meaning into the text. I’m sure this happens in many places, and I’ve caught myself on some.

If you have any interest at all in the debate over women’s roles in the church and home and do not have this book, you must amend the situation immediately. It doesn’t matter if you are egalitarian or complementarin; you must deal with the arguments raised by Payne, who interacts with top scholars from both sides of the debate (including Piper, Grudem, Wright, and more).

What are your thoughts? How do you read this difficult passage? Does your native tongue perhaps change your perception of the meaning of some parts of the Bible?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote- If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Check out my posts on egalitarianism (scroll down for more).

Source

Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

SDG.

“Husband of One Wife” – What does this mean?

mwoc-2A common argument for limiting the pastoral ministry to men only is to cite a number of texts where the requirements for elders/overseers/etc. are given. Among these, one which allegedly shows that women are not to hold positions of authority in the church is the statement that the holder of such a position is to be the “husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; 12; Titus 1:6).

On the face of it, this seems to be a pretty telling argument. After all, if someone is the husband of one wife, then that would certainly seem to exclude women! So what’s the problem?

Is your pastor married?

You see, if someone wants to take the statement in its most literal sense, it isn’t merely, abstractly stating that the overseer/bishop/deacon/elder is supposed to be a man; it is actually saying he is supposed to be a husband.* So if one wants to take the Bible in its most “literal” reading, then one must argue that not only may women not be pastors; neither may any unmarried (or remarried, or divorced, or widowed, etc.) men. Period.

So what’s the problem with this? The problem is that once we get to this level, it should be pretty easy to see how absurd the argument is. What the phrase is intended to convey is monogamy. That is, church leaders are to be monogamous. The teaching is pretty clear when understood in this light. If one is to be a leader in the church, it should be easily observable that they are monogamous and celibate apart from marriage. There are to be no exceptions.

If someone wants to dispute this and press that the real point is that one must be a man, then they must equally argue that no church leader should be unmarried. Considering Paul himself extolled the values of remaining unmarried (and was himself unmarried), such a reading of Paul is problematic, at best.

All of this is to set aside the other difficulties with using passages like this to restrict women from the ministry. One example is the excessive addition of male pronouns into the English translations which are not present in the Greek (see Philip Payne, Man and Woman: One in Christ, 445 [I have reviewed this book here]). Another problem is that they seem to be teaching against polygamy as opposed to any type of gender restrictions (ibid). Finally, the lists of requirements are stated in such a way as to make it actually open for women to hold such offices (Payne, 448-452).

Even if one disagrees on the last paragraph, it should be clear that one cannot use these passages to restrict women from the ministry. They simply do not have the data in them to allow for such a restriction.

*(Yes, I am aware that it may be translated “man of one woman,” but that just makes it extremely clear that the meaning is supposed to be referring to husband and wife. After all, what other reason could there be to be “of one woman”?)

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Check out my posts on egalitarianism (scroll down for more).

Paul Adams has a series of posts on Philip Payne’s work discussed herein. Check out his series, starting with the first post.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Women and the Reformation: Hope, Silence, and Circumstance

Marguerite_d'Angoulême_by_Jean_ClouetIt is Reformation Day and this year we are going to reflect upon a topic that is all-too-often overlooked: women in the Reformation. We shall consider the impact of women on the Reformation and the impact of the Reformation upon women from a theological perspective. I admit that covering such a broad topic within a blog post means I am very short on detail. I encourage readers to check out the sources at the end of this post in order to explore further avenues.

The Impact of the Reformation Upon Women

The Reformation brought about some changes for women both theologically and socially. Theologically, the issue of inequality  between men and women socially and spiritually was more widely discussed. Although the concept had existed before, the Reformers largely held to the notion that men and women were spiritually equal. Spiritual equality led some to wonder whether women could perhaps be social equals, or–if that was to far afield–perhaps they could at least be less inequal (Spierling, 181-183, cited below). Seeds for social and spiritual change were sown during this period, but it must be admitted that there was not as much development as some may allege.

For example, Martin Luther’s notion of the “priesthood of all believers” is sometimes taken to mean that women and men could stand alongside each other as spiritual equals in teaching, preaching, etc. However, when Luther himself was challenged on this issue by the Roman Catholics, he answered by making it very explicit that although women could teach in extraordinary circumstances, he believed the Bible mandated that men were in charge in both church and home (Spierling, 186; see Luther’s Works 36: 151-152). Spiritual equality was seen as equality in the eyes of God, not in the roles that men and women actually took on earth. However, Luther also fought against some of the double standards regarding men and women and was outspoken against brothels and other abuses of women (Lindberg, 360-361, cited below).

The Reformers remained influenced by early Christian views of men and women, which were, in turn, influenced by earlier non-Christian scholars whose pre-scientific views of biology and psychology were adopted. Diarmaid MacCulloch traced the impact of Aristotle and the ancient medical expert Galen upon figures like Augustine and Clement. He described the Reformers’ view of manhood and womanhood as viewed through this lens thus:

What Christian theologians asserted about men, women, and sexuality was nonsense, but it was ancient nonsense, and humanity has always been inclined to respect the assertion of ancient wisdom. The… package of ideas also had a lunatic coherence: it seemed to make sense, explained a baffling aspect of human experience, and contained a good deal of room for flexibility of interpretation. No doubt our own medical theories will seem equally lunatic to generations to come. (MacCulloch,611, cited below)

Carter Lindberg’s own discussion of the impact of the Reformation upon women is bracketed by the question: “Was the Reformation a help or a hindrance to women?” He answers, a bit tongue-in-cheek, “It depends.” The Reformers denied that marriage was a sacrament, which allowed, later, for the dissolution of abusive or even loveless marriage. Women also began to become more actively involved in theology, though their voices were often silenced or ignored. The encouragement to leave convents may have reduced the possibilities for single women to have careers in the church or any sort of involvement  (Lindberg, 358-361).

The social expectations for men and women during the Reformation period were shaped by the cultural expectations of “gender” which were themselves handed down to today through the theological writings of the Reformers (Ibid, 360). The concept may be termed “patriarchy” and was theologically adapted to continue to make it appropriate for the culture through the 1800s and into today (MacCulloch, 611).

Women’s Impact on the Reformation 

Women had little voice within the Reformation, largely due to some of the issues mentioned above. However, that is not to say that women had no voice whatsoever within the theological developments of the Reformation. There were several women who wrote theological treatises alongside their male counterparts, though their efforts were often ignored (Spierling, 187, 180-181).

Among these was Marie Dentière, who defended her own authority to teach in Galatians 3:28. Dentière was a noblewoman who defended the Reformers through the use of the Bible and who vehemently encouraged women to leave the Catholic faith. She wrote to defend Calvin during his exile. Women were called to teach and take up their Bibles to defend the Christian faith. Dentière’s defense of women’s capacity to teach was grounded in the biblical examples of godly women, among them the first herald of Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary Magdalene (Lindberg, 360; see also McKinley, 155-159, cited below).

Interestingly, Dentière’s writings spurred other women, Catholics, to speak against her in defense of convents. Jeanne de Jussie was directly called upon by Dentière to close her convent, but responded with a theological defense of convents and an attack on Calvinism (Lindberg, 359).

Other women acknowledged the subordination of women in the church and home, but nevertheless argued that the situation of the Reformation had brought about exactly the types of emergency situations Luther had granted women may teach in. Argula von Grumbach wrote defending Arsacius Seehofer, who had been arrested and prosecuted for “holding Lutheran ideas.” She felt the need to defend Seehofer because no one else had done so. Thus, her authority was granted due to the priesthood of all believers.The emergency situation was brought about by Seehofer’s continued imprisonment and the fact that no men had stood up to defend him.

Thus, Reformation theology was seen as the grounds for some women to speak; even those who acknowledged the categories of subordination found within the theology of the Reformers. Others spoke up due to the wielding of Reformation theology against Roman Catholicism. Still others felt that sola scriptura had led them to discover real, biblical grounds for women to teach.

Conclusion

I’m a huge fan of Reformation theology, but it must be admitted that the Reformers’ views on women were essentially a product of their societal background. They embraced, rightfully, sola scriptura, but as I have noted elsewhere (Who Interprets Scripture?), this itself raised a number of issues regarding the interpretation and meaning of a text. Moreover, sola scriptura does not entail that one is able to interpret the Bible in a socio-cultural vaccuum. It seems to me the Reformers view of women as essentially child-bearers and home-makers was more a product of their cultural background than something the text of the Bible specifically taught. Of course, that is a debate for a different time.

To end on a positive note, it is worth noting that the Reformers’ teaching sowed the seeds for greater gender equality. The notion of the “priesthood of all believers” should not be abused in order to be taken as an endorsement of women teaching; but it nevertheless did have within it a concept of spiritual equality which provided a basis, however small, for believing that men and women could be spiritual and social equals. Moreover, women began to take up the torch and teach in “emergency” situations and thus provided a basis for others to do the same. Finally, still other women turned to the Bible itself as a justification for their voice alongside that of men. Their authority to teach was, they argued, itself biblical.

Let us continue that Reformation.

Sources

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Mary McKinley, “Dentiere, Marie” in Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters edited Marion Ann Taylor and Agnes Choi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 155-159

Karen Spierling, “Women, Marriage, and Family” in T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology edited David Whitford (New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 178-196.

The Image is of Marie Dentiere and is public domain.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Mulan Among Us: Disney’s “Mulan” and Womanhood

mulan-women

Disney’s “Mulan” is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is coming out of “The Vault” for its 15th anniversary. Here, I will explore one of the most poignant themes of this powerful film.

Warning: There are spoilers for Disney’s Mulan in the following discussion

Mulan and Cultural Expectations

Mulan is a warrior. She is powerful, capable, and determined.

Oh, and I forgot: she is a woman.

It is that “shocking” pronouncement which is the focus of the Disney’s Mulan, which is one of the deepest films in Disney’s arsenal, so far as I’m concerned. Mulan is a woman who wants to be respected for her abilities, not placed into the mold of what society expects women to be.

Mulan is challenged at numerous points throughout the movie. She does not fit into her society’s gender ideals. She is expected to be clean, quiet, submissive, and “womanly.” And she tries to fit into these expectations. The culture wants her to be a good wife, so she tries to match what her culture’s idea is in order to become a good wife. Those who have seen the movie knows she fails miserably. When she visits the matchmaker, she recites, in a stumbling way, the right sayings: “Fulfill your duties, calmly and respectively. Reflect before you… Act!” She lacks grace, poise, and ultimately ends up comically ruining the whole scene, setting the matchmaker on fire and dousing that fire with hot tea, running the matchmaker’s makeup and earning the pronouncement that she will never fit society’s expectations for her.

Yet this reveals another cultural shock: it is the very fact that Mulan is placed into a one-size-fits-all box to take on roles which do not match her abilities that leads to her triumph. It is not that she should be trying harder, or that she is wrong; instead, the fact is that it is her culture’s expectations which are wrong. Mulan destroys those expectations. She saves China, and the Emperor himself honors her. Thus, the expectations are shattered, and Mulan remains “true to herself.” Her abilities destroyed the cultural norms that people had tried to apply to her.

“So what!?” you may be asking. “I already knew this, though I may not have outlined it like this.” After all, telling women to be submissive and arguing that there are very specific roles that they should fit into is a thing of the past.

Is it?

Have you never heard the phrase “she wears the pants in that family”? That speaks to a division of roles that is still at least unconsciously acknowledged in our culture. What about “make me a sandwich” or “get in the kitchen”? What of more subtle distinctions? “I would never vote for a woman president.” “A man is in charge of the family.”

Moreover, some theological traditions continue to argue that there are very explicit roles for man and woman in leadership and the home. It is to that concept that we will turn to, with a focus on Mulan.

Mulan and Theology

The shock of Mulan’s story may seem almost comical to us, but the fact remains that there are women whose talents are not being acknowledged. They do not fit the mold. It is said within some branches of contemporary theology that women are to submit to their husbands. These theologians teach that women have very specific roles: that of “helper,” servant, or anything but “leader” or “teacher.” According to these views, women can teach other women and even male children, but when it comes to man, she is always subordinate. Consider the following passage, from a book endorsing this view (“Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood“):

[I]t is simply impossible that from time to time a woman not be put in a position of influencing or guiding men. For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership… But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man that neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised. (John Piper, 50, cited below)

Moreover, women, on this view, must be careful about how they give their advice; they must remember that they are to be submissive:

A wife who ‘comes on strong’ with her advice will probably drive a husband into passive silence, or into active anger (Ibid, 52)

I can’t help but think of the scene from Mulan just before she saves the Emperor when she is trying to get people to listen to her about the great danger of the Huns in the Imperial City. They pull away from her forcibly, ignoring what she says. Finally, her trusty sidekick, Mushu, points out that “You’re a woman.”

Such is the way in which manhood and womanhood is supposed to play out within those branches of contemporary theology which lean towards complementarianism–the view that men and women are to occupy different “roles” in the church and the home. Women are to be submissive, even when they try to give directions to a man. Mulan, in this view, perhaps came on “too strong” in her insistence that the Emperor was in danger. If she had only been more submissive, then she would not have provoked “passive silence” or “active anger.”

The absurdity of this notion can be found in the fact that it is the victim who is blamed for the abuse. “Passive silence” can be just as harmful as “active anger.” Is it really acceptable to say that a woman, by offering advice, “provokes” the man? Moreover, is it really honorable to men to turn us into seething machines, who, if the right button is pressed, turn into active aggressors or passively-aggressive “victims”? Again, the movie “Mulan” has presented a more balanced approach: there are women who transcend society’s–and religion’s–expectations.

There are Mulans among us. There are women who challenge this perceived view of manhood and womanhood. There are women who are gifted greatly to be leaders, not followers. There are women with the gift of teaching. There are women whose very existence shatters the notion that woman’s role is to be submissive. Their talents and abilities call us to use them, not to force them to singular submission. The Bible calls us to mutual submission, not a singular silence from one gender. These Mulans are powerful missionaries, leaders, teachers, yes, even pastors: gifted and called by God to take on roles that their cultural milieu often wants to deny to them.

I pray that more of these women would arise and use their gifts for the church. Many women have already done so, but our church’s culture has too often tried to silence women. Instead, we need to acknowledge the Mulans we know.

Check the links below for more discussions of women and the church. For all my posts on the topic, check out my egalitarianism category (scroll down for more posts).

Links

Be sure to check out my looks at other movies. If you like Mulan, what about Brave?

For information on egalitarianism–the view that the Bible teaches us women and men should fill equal roles–check out “Christians for Biblical Equality.”

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails- I argue that the position in which women are excluded from church leadership entails inequality of being.

Book Review: “Good News for Women” by Rebecca Groothuis- I review an excellent book on the issue of gender equality in the Bible.

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber- I take a look at how science fiction has dealt with theological topics, with a particular focus on dialogue about religion and women.

I discuss the notion of having my expectations of women shattered here.

Sources

John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood defined According to the Bible” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 31-59 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006). There is a newer edition which is linked to in this post and citation.

Mulan- Disney, 1998.

Image Credit

The image used in this post is credited to the Mulan Facebook page.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Response to a Complementarian video about why women cannot be pastors- Part 1

I am here responding to a youtube video, “Why Oranges Can’t be Apples.”

Recently, I came across a video arguing why women should not be pastors. I watched it and I have to say that it seems to reflect generally the arguments often used for complementarian positions. I thought it worth responding to this video simply to show how this debate is often focused around preconceived notions of manhood and womanhood instead of the actual Biblical texts.

Here, I will simply quote some of the things Jonathan Fisk claims in this video. Then, I shall respond to the comments he makes. I tried to include times for any of the quotes. They may not be exactly to the second, so I’ll take blame for any of these that aren’t lined up properly.

“God created authority, he made it good.” (3:00ish)

This line is troublesome. Did God create “authority”? Think about that claim. Is it possible to “create authority”? That doesn’t seem to me to be the case. In fact, I would argue that God has authority by fiat. Upon creation, God had authority over creation. Authority requires something to be authoritative over, but it is not created. Anyway, this is a minor point.

“Okay so put that [family roles] into the role of man and woman in Christ.” (4:46-4:48).

Fisk makes this comment after a rather lengthy discussion over authority structures in the family. Again, there are some really major problems with this statement. First, Fisk fails to make the argument that the roles of man and woman in Christ are distinct. Instead, he reads such roles onto the positions of male and female only after assuming them in the family. Fisk made the claim before this that man is placed as an “actual authority over the wife.” But here he must rely upon the interpretation of “head” as “authority.”

Consider the line of reasoning that is happening here: man is the head (authority) over woman in the family; Christ is the head (authority) over the church. Therefore, man should be the head (authority) over the church.

The conclusion simply does not follow from the premises. Even were I to grant that the two premises were true (which I don’t), the conclusion still would not follow. There is no argument here, only an assumption.

Second, reading human relationships onto God and then back onto humans is extraordinarily problematic. Many heresies have developed because humans have  decided to make God in their own image. Fisk is here bordering on that by reading a preconceived notion of family onto God and then from God back onto the church.

“Christ himself, in order to save the world, had to be a man…” (7:03-7:05)

“It’s impossible for a woman to redeem the world.” (7:08-7:09)

Here Fisk claims to be talking about Christology, but I’m hesitant to agree with him. Fisk’s argument is a bit convoluted and he mostly just throws out a number of Christological phrases, so rather than quoting him at length I’ll sum up his argument.

Essentially, the argument is that Christ had to be male because he had to act as the head (here still using head as “authority”) of creation in order to save creation  Because man is the head of the family and therefore somehow responsible entirely for the fall (?) Christ had to be a male.

Now one problem with this argument that should be immediately apparent is that the way Fisk is using “head” to mean “authority” actually undermines his claim that the Redeemer had to be male. Why? Well Fisk’s claim is that Christ had to be male to act as the head over all creation so that He could redeem creation. But in order to make sense of Fisk’s claim, one would have to ground all creation in Christ, which would work only if Christ was the “head” over all creation in the sense of source not of authority. The reason is because Christ would have to have the ontological capability to redeem creation, not simply the authority. This is actually at the heart of Christology.

Why would God have to become incarnate as a human, suffer, die, and rise again if redemption is merely a matter of authority? After all, surely the Godhead would have the authority to forgive sins in the first place! The issue is not one of authority but one of ontology. God simply offering a brute forgiveness of violations of His Law would not adequately bring to fulfillment God’s justice. Instead, God had to become incarnate so that  God could fulfill His perfect Law without sin. The issue was not authority. God had the authority already. So Fisk’s use of “head” as “authority” is inconsistent. When he applies it to Christology, he equivocates on the term, using it as though it means source, despite claiming it means authority. That is the root of the problem with his argument here: he mixes ontology with authority.

But there are still more problems: if Christ had to be male in order to save humanity from sin, does that not speak to something about the nature of maleness and femaleness? If Christ can only be male, does that not mean that males more closely reflect the image of God than females? If Christ had to be male, does that not mean that males are closer to the incarnate deity? It does indeed imply these things, and there’s a reason such thinkers as Augustine explicitly reject this faulty, nigh-heretical teaching.

“This was such a clearly defined teaching… that they [apostles/church fathers] don’t do a lot of talking to say ‘women cannot be pastors.'”

Fisk goes on to say that “the word pastor wasn’t really the common word used for talking about pastors, instead they said things like ‘elder’ or… ‘deacon’ or ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’.”

Let’s turn to a text here really quickly:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon [Greek: diakonon] of the church in Cenchreae. (Romans 16:1)

So let’s just contemplate for a moment what Fisk said. He claimed that the apostles don’t much discuss women not being pastors, in part because they used other words, like “deacon.” But Paul sends a greeting to the churches in Rome, and he talks about “our sister Phoebe” whom he called “a deacon.” Perhaps this explains why we don’t get a lot of talk about women not being pastors; because they were pastors. Phoebe is explicitly called a deacon, the very word Fisk himself cites as an example of a word used for pastor.

But Fisk goes on to say that “they” go on to describe what a pastor should be over in 1 Timothy. This list, he notes, says that an overseer must be a “husband of one wife.” Now, Fisk actually says that this is the “first thing” it claims about being an overseer. Fisk is wrong. The first thing the text says is actually that an overseer must be above reproach.

Fisk’s ultra-literalistic reading of this text is problematic. In order to realize this, it is important to have the text out there:

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach… [1 Timothy 3:2- note that there are quite a few more requirements of the overseer listed after this verse]

Fisk is trying to read this verse as saying that an overseer must be a man, because after all, how else could the overseer be the husband of one wife? But what of all the pastors who are unmarried? If the text is teaching that an overseer must be the husband of one wife, why is it only the masculine part of the verse that applies today? Why is it not the entire phrase? Why are not all pastors required to be husbands of one wife?After all, that is what the text says.

Before someone accuses me of claiming that the Bible is wrong or diverging from Biblical truth, I should note that the problem is not with the text; it is with Fisk’s interpretation of the text. The problem is that Fisk is reading this text ultra-literalistically only in order to prove his point, but no farther. He wishes to read only that the overseer must be a man, but not that the overseer must be a husband. His exegesis is a mixed approach. Instead, I would point out that the requirement of being a “husband of one wife” shows that pastors should be faithful spouses. If Fisk wants to make his point, he must be consistent in his hermeneutic. He must read the whole passage in the same literalistic manner he has read “husband” to imply absolute maleness in the pastoral office. Thus, all pastors must be married. But they must have children that they keep submissive (verse 4), they must not be recent  converts, etc. Now many of these requirements for pastors can be read literally and work just fine. Pastors should not be lovers of money (heaven help them if they are! they are in the wrong profession!). But the whole point of the verse is general requirements; not explicit, literalistic requirements.

Now  I realize that I’m at about 1500 words and I’m not even halfway into the video, so it looks like this will have to be a multi-part response, if people find this useful. Do you?

Preview of some other issues: the Trinity, more problems with texts, and more!

Further Reading

How complementarianism is getting the Trinity wrong.

How complementarianism undermines the image of God in male and female.

A book review of an excellent work addressing every major text on this issue.

Women teach us all the time, through the Bible.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Cross Roads” by Wm. Paul Young- An Evangelical’s Perspective

cross roadsOne of the biggest publishing phenomena of late, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young generated discussion among people all over the world, selling over 18 million copies. I have discussed that book elsewhere, and now I turn to Cross Roads, Young’s recently released novel. Please note that this will not be a review and I will not provide a summary of the plot. Instead, I am exploring the theological and philosophical themes that Young raises throughout Cross Roads. There will be Spoilers ahead.

Free Will

The notion of crossroads is a major theme throughout the work, and Young utilizes the imagery to discuss free will metaphorically. Anthony Spencer (Tony), the main character, finds himself inside his mind, which is portrayed as a kind of land with various roads and places inside it. Initially, he begins exploring this land and finds himself coming to numerous forks in the road. He continues to find these forks and realizes that as he continues to make choices, “it occurred to Tony that the number of direction decisions was diminishing; options were significantly decreasing” (35). Young doesn’t expand on this much, but it seems like a vivid illustration of libertarian free will, wherein one’s choices in the past do indeed influence their choices in the future. As Tony makes choices on his path, he finds that the choices available to him decrease. The reason, it seems, is because his choices have started to form his world. It seems to me that this is a great way to show libertarian free will in literature.

Church

A robust theology of church and salvation is something that I think is necessary for an adequate theology. I find one reason for this illustrated well by Young:

Church, thought Tony. He hadn’t set foot inside one of those since his last foster family had been religious. He and Jake [Tony's brother] had been required to sit silently for what seemed like hours… He smiled to himself, remembering how he and Jake had schemed together and ‘gone forward’ one night at church, thinking it would win them points with the family, which it did. The attention their conversions garnered was initially rewarding, but it soon became clear that ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ dramatically increased expectations for strict obedience to a host of rules they hadn’t anticipated. He soon became a ‘backslider,’ in a category, he discovered, that was profoundly worse than being pagan in the first place. (124)

It seems clear to me that here the act of conversion has itself become a work, rather than a gift of grace. Tony’s concept of conversion at this point in the book is that of “asking Jesus into your heart.” Unsurprisingly, when he fails to perform other adequate works–obeying a set of rules. The problem with this theology should become clear immediately. By suggesting that Christianity is about “going forward” and publicly affirming a faith, this form of theology puts the believer in the position of affirming faith, rather than receiving it as a gift. When faith becomes a public work, it becomes the Law instead of the Gospel. When demands for works are made on faith, then faith itself becomes a work. Unfortunately, this kind of works-righteousness sneaks into theology at all levels, ever seeking a place to grow.

The problems with this theology are portrayed vividly in this illustration. The notion that people need to make a public declaration of faith leads to its abuse, as Tony and Jake attempted to do, but it also leads to difficulties for those who believe their declaration was itself true (unlike Tony and Jake, who simply did it to glorify themselves in the eyes of their foster parents). When someone makes their “decision for Christ,”  their faith life becomes wrapped up in that decision. Their walk with God is contingent upon their continuing to make this decision. Unfortunately, this type of theology makes faith all about one’s own decisions, rather than Christ’s justification and the free gift of faith.

Women

There are many church bodies who do not ordain women to the office of the ministry. That is, they hold beliefs that say women should not be spiritual leaders of men in the church. Young explores this issue when Pastor Skor shows up and challenges Maggie, one of the main characters, regarding her outburst during a church service.  Pastor Skor takes Maggie’s outburst and disruptive behavior as a clue to him from God that he has been too lax in his instructing his congregation in the Bible. He makes an argument that women should not be leaders in church and should remain silent:

And we affirm the Word, which declares there is no longer male or female [Galatians 3:28], but… the Word is speaking of how God sees us, not about how we function in the church, and we must always remember that God is a God of order. It is vital that each person play their part, and as long as they stay within the roles that God has mandated, the church functions as it was meant to… (167)

The pastor goes on to quote 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to support his position. Yet Young, through Clarence, an elder who is with the pastor to talk with Maggie, provides a counter-argument to this reasoning:

It is sarcasm… I believe that the apostle Paul was being sarcastic when he wrote what you read… He is quoting a letter that these folk sent him with questions, and he is in total disagreement with what they have written to him. (168-169)

Clarence defends this position by alluding to 1 Corinthians 14:36, apparently using the KJV: “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” Given the way this verse is worded, Clarence holds that verses 34-35 are a quote from a letter the Corinthians sent to Paul which Paul then responds to sarcastically by wondering whether the Corinthians think that God’s word came only to them.

Young’s offered interpretation seems possible, but perhaps not made explicit enough. It seems to me possible that Paul would have made it more clear that he was quoting another’s writing here. The KJV seems to support the interpretation given to 1 Cor 14:36 here, but other translations phrase it differently, in such a way that the verse seems to be more of a challenge to readers to dismiss what Paul is declaring in 34-35.

Of course, one could still argue that Young’s interpretation has great strength, noting that nowhere in the Bible do we see this command in the Scripture “as the law also says” and so we may infer that Paul is referencing an extra-biblical teaching and rebutting it. In fact, this seems to line up with Young’s argument perfectly because we can see that Paul would be citing a Judaizer’s teaching in the church in Corinth–who would hold that the silence of women is taught by the Law [Jewish extra-biblical law]–and then refuting this by noting that the word of God did not come from them alone (see Katharine Bushnell’s God’s Word to Women for an extended look at this argument). It seems to me that this does have some significant strength, thus empowering Young’s argument.

Therefore, it seems to me that Young offers a fairly decent egalitarian interpretation of the passage, though he could have given other arguments which would take into account the passage’s cultural context, in which women were speaking out of turn in worship. The core of the statement seems to me to be that the women in this specific context needed to learn from their husbands at home and remain silent in church so that they did not cause disruption.

The way the scenario plays out in the book is also difficult to evaluate because Maggie definitely was disrupting the church service and would have appeared at least slightly crazy to those around her. She was screaming about a demon speaking to her and was, in fact, mistaken about that. I think she can be forgiven for her extreme reaction given the strange situation in which she found herself, but the Corinthians passage is in context all about order in worship in general, and certainly people bursting in screaming about demons would be disorderly worship.

Thus, it seems to me that Young offers a possible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but he has made his case problematic by the narrative context in which he placed it. It is worth noting that this work will get people talking about the issue. Young has given a somewhat strong version of a lengthy egalitarian argument in the form of narrative.

Practical Ethics and Disability

Cabby, a boy with Down’s Syndrome, is featured prominently throughout the book. Young uses him as a foil to show that those with disabilities have much to contribute to modern society. Perhaps the most poignant way he does this is through the negative portrayal of Tony’s view of Cabby:

Tony had never known a ‘retarded’ person. He wasn’t sure if that is what you called them… His opinions on most nonbusiness matters may not have been founded on evidence or experience, but he was sure of them. People like Cabby were an  unproductive drain on the resources of society; they were valuable only to their families. He believed they were tolerated because of liberal persuasions, not because such people had any intrinsic worth… It is easy to create a category of persons, like retarded or handicapped, and then pass judgment on the group as a whole. He wondered if that was not the heart of all prejudice. (108-109)

In contrast to Tony’s view, Cabby turns out to be insightful and delightful. He is shown to have positive value in a number of ways that go beyond his immediate family. He ultimately shows the practical usefulness of inherent human worth.

God 

For Young, understanding God as relationship is central to the concept of deity. The concept of deity that is presented is that of Trinity. Much ink will be spilled, I feel certain, on whether or not Young portrays the persons of the Trinity correctly, just as there was in The Shack (see my own discussion here).

Young’s position seems to be largely unchanged from that in The Shack, and so much of the commentary will follow the same line. I think he does a very good job of exploring the inter-relational character of God and the temporal submission of Christ in the incarnation to God the Father. Some may see the primary difficulty with Young’s portrayal of God is that the Father makes very little appearance in the book, but near the end readers find out that is not the case. In fact, the Father is intricately involved in all aspects of God and the life portrayed in the novel.

Those who conceptualize God as inherently male will have a problem with the book, however. Unfortunately, some paganism has indeed hung on in the church, wherein some view God as a gendered being. In the Bible, however, we find that God is spirit and not a man. Thus, I think that Young’s use of gender with God may shock some but also underscores the fact that God is not a gendered being, and instead transcendent.

Historical Theology

Young offers a short discussion of historical theology and God that seems to me to at least partially miss the mark. It is very brief, but I think it is worth discussing. Young puts the following commentary in the mouth of Jesus himself:

The Greeks, with their love for isolation [of deity] influence Augustine and later Aquinas… and a nonrelational religious Christianity is born. Along come the Reformers, like Luther and Calvin, who do their best to send the Greeks back outside the Holy of Holies, but they are barely in the grave before the Greeks are resuscitated and invited back to teach in their schools of religion. The tenacity of bad ideas is rather remarkable, don’t you think? (73)

There are a number of problems with this small passage. First, Augustine heavily influenced both Calvin and Luther. In fact, Calvin’s theology is tied very intricately to Augustine’s view of free will and original sin. Similarly, Luther’s view of original sin derives directly from Augustine’s exposition in City of God. Second, it seems unfair to view Aquinas as a kind of anti-relationalist when it comes to God’s nature. Aquinas very much emphasized the triunity of God, which was (and is!) an extremely important topic. To thus accuse Aquinas of undermining God’s relational-ness seems unfair. Finally, the notion that the influence of Greek philosophy on Christianity is somehow inherently bad seems a bit shortsighted. There are innumerable positive contributions that reflection on Greek thought has brought into the fold of Christianity. Among these are the very concept of free will that Young pushes in his book, along with a number of aspects of Trinitarian and Incarnational theology that Young seems to support. This may seem to be a nitpick, but it seems to me that if Young is going to use his book to make comments about historical theology, it is vastly important to get that historical development right.

Conclusion

Cross Roads is another thought-provoking work by Young. Those who read it will be forced to think about all the topics on which it touches, regardless of whether they agree with Young’s conclusions or not. As with The Shackthis book will almost certainly be widely read. Those who are interested in Christian theology and apologetics should consider the book a must-read simply for its cultural relevance. Ultimately, Young has authored another fictional work that will inspire conversations about theology on a wide scale.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Good News for Women” by Rebecca Groothuis

The debate over women’s roles in the home and in the church rages on. A large part of the debate has focused upon the Bible verses that either side raises in defense of their view. Little of the debate has focused on the philosophical implications of either position. Rebecca Groothuis’ Good News for Women offers a different approach. Groothuis integrates extensive philosophical arguments into her Biblical case for the egalitarian position.

Groothuis first turns to a Biblical case for the equality of men and women. She bases this notion on several Biblical texts. She refers to God’s creation of both male and female in the image/likeness of God (21ff). Her argument also goes into Galatians 3:26-28 and notes how it again draws out the equality between male and female. Regarding the discussions of women’s silence in the churches, Groothuis parallels these passages to those about slaves submitting to their masters:

[T]he strategy of the New Testament church was to tolerate the social subordination of slaves and women so as not to risk alienating non-Christians from the gospel, and yet to modulate and moderate these customs, and ultimately to point beyond them to God’s original intention for human relations. Today, however, when non-Christians are not likely to be offended by an equalitarian gospel, but are likely to find a hierarchical gospel offensive, we have no reason to perpetuate the cultural practices that were intially intended for Christians living in patriarchal societies (25).

Groothuis concludes that throughout the Bible, there is a pattern in which male and female are equal in being. They are, in other words, ontologically equal. Neither is more valuable than the other.

It should be noted that most complementarians today are willing to grant this case. They agree that women and men are indeed created equal and should have equal rights. Groothuis then turns to a series of philosophical arguments which seek to demonstrate that the complementarian position cannot consistently hold that women are equal to men while holding that they are excluded from the ministry. Her argument, therefore, goes deeper than an exegetical challenge. Instead, her argument undermines the theological core groundings of complementarianism.

The very core of Groothuis’ argument is that complementarianism is grounded upon an ontological difference between male and female. The reason she holds that complementarinism must hold this position is “[b]ecause a woman’s traditionally inferior status follows necessarily from the single fact of her essential, female nature, her status is itself a function of her ‘being’ [ontology]; it is determined by what she is, not by what she can do” (53). Complementarians hold that women cannot hold certain offices of the church due only to the fact of her femininity. It is not based upon a functional subordination in which the female chooses to take up a role that is subordinate (62ff); instead, it must be grounded upon the female’s nature as a female. There is nothing about the female which limits her from being a pastor, on most contemporary complementarian positions (that is, those which no longer hold that women are excluded from the ministry simply because she is not as smart or gifted as men in general). Instead, it is exclusively her feminine nature which determines her role as subordinate. Therefore, it is part of her essential nature. I have argued this point myself elsewhere: “Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails.”

Grothuis continues with extensive argument to rebut the notion of servant leadership (78ff). She also deals with various analogies complementarians use to attempt to ground equality and hierarchy, such as the Trinity (55ff–it should be noted that grounding subordination in the Trinity undermines the doctrine of the Godhead).  It should become immediately apparent as to how this leads to a problem for complementarians. Biblically, they are forced to concede that women and men are, in fact, equal. However, their position undermines this Biblical position of the equality of men and women. Therefore, it seems their position fails.

Groothuis then turns to a number of strategies that complementarians have used in order to try to tie the subordination of women in to patterns of the Godhead. Unfortunately, many of these strategies end up making God into a gendered creature rather than a transcendent Creator. Some complementarians, such as C.S. Lewis, actually go so far as to make God male (93). Groothuis points out that this gendering of God cannot be affirmed based upon the Bible. One difficulty is that both male and female language is used of God (93-94). Yet she insists that the debate must not become a simple adding up of verses on either side to see how God illustrates either gender. That would turn God into a “God who suffers from some gender identity confusion” (93). Instead:

The view that God is both masculine and feminine confuses and distorts the image of God in humanity. It requires that the divine image be divided between women and men, such that women image God’s feminine aspects and men image God’s masculine aspects. This sexualizing of spiritual attributes renders men and women spiritual ‘opposites,’ creating a need to compartmentalize aspects of spiritual life and ministry into separate masculine and feminine quarters. (98)

Groothuis also spends some time dealing with some of the odd–and frankly, pagan–ideas used by some complementarians. For example, some argue that God must act as a male in the creation event: one who gives so much, while the created world merely receives. To be blunt, they describe God’s creative act as a sexual act, with no Biblical support. Groothuis rightly points out that this idea is little more than paganism dressed up in theism, but goes on to note that “It seems a good deal of imagination and determination is required in order to characterize the strenuous effort required of a woman’s body in nourishing, growing, and delivering a child as ‘overwhelmingly passive,’ while depicting the male role of standing around watching it happen as ‘active’!” (95). Another abuse of gender in the Godhead involves some complementarians arguing that because Jesus was a man, only men can be priests (109ff). Groothuis points out that “If we are to regard maleness as essential to who Christ is as Christ, not only must we question whether Jesus Christ can represent women as fully as he can men… we must also view women as essentially inferior to men. Women lack the Christlike attribute of maleness that renders men best qualified to represent Christ…” (113). Interestingly, then, complementarians who utilize this argument essentially undermine the doctrine of the atonement: for Christ’s maleness is emphasized to the point that Jesus is not an adequate representation of humanity. He is essentially male.

The second half of Good News for Women focuses upon an evaluation of the texts used to support complementarianism. These texts are examined in light of the theological points already established. Namely, women and men are created equally as imagers/likenesses of God; and that any attempt to ground hierarchy ultimate fails because it undermines this Biblical concept of equality. A full presentation of Groothuis’ analysis of these texts would probably triple the length of this review, and I don’t see any way to sum up these arguments adequately in a few sentences, so I unfortunately must leave it to those interested to read the book to see these analyses.

Finally, it would be remiss to go without mentioning the outstanding contribution Groothuis gives to the discussion of egalitarian marriage. Groothuis discusses marriage in detail for over 40 pages of the book. What is astonishing is how lucidly she lays out the principles of egalitarian marriage. She illustrates the nature of marriage and how it is a give-and-take with both persons involved as opposed to one ruling over the other. She also discusses in detail how such an egalitarian system can work without having anyone to have a vote to “trump” the other’s vote. Frankly, the book is worth reading just for her discussion on marriage.

Groothuis’ most important contribution here is in the first part of her book, which establishes a strong theological and philosophical case for the equality of men and women in teaching roles in the Church and equal roles in marriage. However, there are numerous important insights throughout the text, both into specific verses and into overarching themes in the debate from both the complementarian and egalitarian positions. Groothuis’ discussion of egalitarian marriage provides a way forward for discussion on the roles of men and women in marriage and also helps to give insight into the Biblical view of marriage. Overall Good News for Women presents a strong philosophical critique of complementarianism which people on both sides of the debate must consider. I have read many articles and books on this topic, and frankly I have yet to find a book which goes into the ultimate philosophical and theological implications of complementarianism as thoroughly as this book. I recommend it extremely highly.

Links

See my other writings on egalitarianism on my theology page (scroll to the bottom).

I argue that certain complementarian arguments undermine the Trinity.

I review a book which focuses entirely upon exegetical issues related to egalitarianism: Man and Woman: One in Christ.

Source

Rebecca Groothuis, Good News for Women (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1997).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber

I love science fiction. One of the main reasons is because it provides a medium for authors to share their philosophical outlook for the world. Some authors portray their vision of what the world would like like if…. and what fills in that “if” is that which the author would like readers to be wary of our condemn. For example, distopian fiction often takes some aspect of society and shows how if we allow it to run rampant, we will create a world wherein we would not want to dwell. Other authors use science fiction to portray an ideal (or nearly ideal) society and show how the things they are promoting or believe fit into that ideal society.

Ben Bova and David Weber are two of my favorite science fiction authors. Bova blends hard science fiction (sci-fi which is largely focuses upon the applications of science that is at least seemingly possible) with great storytelling. His “Grand Tour” series of books is the story of humanity spreading across our solar system and even finding life on mars and founding a colony on the moon. David Weber writes military science fiction on an epic scale, complete with amazing battles in space (and who doesn’t like some big explosions in space?). I was fascinated to see both authors interact with Christianity, particularly on a fundamentalist level, and see how they took that discussion.

David Weber

David Weber’s book, The Honor of the Queen portrays its main character, a woman named Honor Harrington, becoming involved in a wartime crisis between two nations which are complementarian in nature. Complementarianism is the belief that women should not be ordained in the church and it is a very real and somewhat pervasive view within the Christian church today. I have discussed it and the rival view that women should be ordained/treated as equals (egalitarianism) at length elsewhere [scroll down to see other posts].

What really struck me is that David Weber fairly presented firm believers as a spectrum. He showed that believers can be reasoned with and even persuaded to believe differently based upon evidence. Furthermore, he showed that even those who may line up on the side with which he disagrees [presumably--I don't know where he stands on the issue] are not all (or even mostly) blinded by faith or foolishness. Rather, although there are some truly evil and disillusioned people, Weber shows that many are capable of changing their position or at least acknowledging that rival views are worth consideration.

The most vivid portrayal of this theme is found in a conversation between Admiral Courvosier and Admiral Yakanov. Courvosier is from the same nation as Honor Harrington and wholly endorses his female officer in a position of command. They discuss Captain Honor Harrington:

[Yanakov responds to Courvosier's question about his society's reaction to Honor]: “If Captain Harrington is as outstanding an officer as you believe–asbelieve–she invalidates all our concepts of womanhood. She means we’re wrong, that our religion is wrong. She means we’ve spent nine centuries being wrong… I think we can admit our error, in time. Not easily… but I believe we can do it.”

“Yet if we do[" Yanakov continues, "]what happens to Grayson [their world]? You’ve met two of my wives. I love all three of them dearly… but your Captain Harrington, just by existing, tells me I’ve made them less than they could have been… Less capable of her independence, her ability to accept responsibility and risk… How do I know where my doubts over their capability stop being genuine love and concern?”

The exchange is characteristic of the way Grayson’s people are treated throughout the book. They are real people, capable of interacting with other views in honest ways. They feel challenged by a view contrary to their own. Some react poorly, and there are extremists who are blinded by hatred and anger. Yet all of them are treated as people with real concerns shaped by their upbringing and backgrounds.

Honor Harrington ends up saving Grayson, and at the end of the book, she is commended by the rulers of that planet. She talks to the “Protector” [read: king/president]:

“You see,” [said the Protector] “we need you.”

Need me, Sir?” [Responded Honor]

“Yes, Grayson faces tremendous changes… You’ll be the first woman in our history to hold land… and we need you as a model–and a challenge–as we bring our women fully into our society.”

Weber thus allows for even ardent supporters of specific religious backgrounds to respond to reasoned argument and to change. They are capable of interacting on a human level and deserve every bit of respect as those who disagree with them. Again, there are those who are radicals and will not be reasoned with, but they are the minority and they do not win out.

Weber therefore presents religious dialogue in The Honor of the Queen as a genuine interaction between real people from differing backgrounds. Those who are “fundamentalist” are capable of changing their views when challenged with a rival view which out-reasons their own. Religious dialogue is possible and fruitful.

Ben Bova

Ben Bova’s whole “Grand Tour” series has a number of dealings with “fundamentalists.” He never really defines the term to be specifically Christian but one can tell when reading the books that it is pretty clear he is referencing hardcore fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.

I recently finished reading Mars Life, one of the latest in the series. The book focuses upon the continued research following the discovery that there was once once intelligent life on earth. There are major forces that are slowing down the exploration of Mars in the book. First, Earth is dealing with a number of major problems from global warming. There is flooding that has almost submerged Florida and other areas of the Midwest (in the U.S.) and the rest of the world is suffering even worse. Thus, people are wary of giving money to research on Mars when there is so much to do more locally. The primary impediment to Mars exploration, however, are the “fundamentalists” (again, an ill-defined term which seems to include some version of Christianity, given that they reference the Bible) who are actively working to cut off funding because they perceive the discovery of life on Mars as a direct threat to fundamental beliefs like anti-evolutionism and the like.

Bova’s treatment of extremist positions in religion is somewhat disingenuous in my opinion, particularly when one compares his portrayal with that of Weber. Bova tends to illustrate religious fundamentalists as a black and white issue. Basically, if you are a hardcore believer, you’re in it for power and control, you are willing to incite violence to achieve your ends, and you are incapable of reasoning. Again, note the contrasts with Weber’s depiction above. A few examples will help to draw this out.

On page 142 and following there is a discussion about putting together a panel to discuss the finding of a fossil on Mars. The interaction shows that no matter what, fundamentalists cannot accept scientific findings:

“Look,” said the bureau chief… “everybody’s calling it a fossil…. …”Call it an alleged fossil, then,” insisted the consultant (from the fundamentalists)… [The group then continues to suggest terms for the fossil:] “A probable fossil?” …”A possible fossil”… [Then, finally] “Say that the scientists believe it’s a fossil and until proven otherwise that’s what we’re going to call it.”

Here one can see that fundamentalism is intrinsically tied to an anti-science mentality. The key for them is to use words which deny absolutes, essentially skirting issues rather than discussing the truth. But that’s not all there is to it. Later on, one of the fundamentalists is engaged in a discussion about “requesting” that some lyrics in music they view as morally reprehensible be changed. The musician flat out refuses, angering the fundamentalist in the process. The section closes as follows:

[The musician] was shot to death at a Dog Dirt concert three months later. His killer surrendered easily to the police, smilingly explaining that he was doing God’s work.

What is interesting about this example is that it is illustrative of a number of such examples throughout the book. These are completely unrelated to the main plot. Rather, it seems what Bova is doing is very explicitly showing that fundamentalists are unafraid to use immoral tactics, censoring, and even incite violence in order to get their way. Theirs is an unquestioned and unquestionable faith. Those in power in fundamentalism are inherently evil and devious. They only want to control. Again, these asides are in no way tied to the plot of the book. It’s almost as though Bova is preaching a different worldview, one which views religiosity as inherently dangerous and violent, with few exceptions.

There is one positive example, however. A Roman Catholic, Monsignor Fulvio DiNardo, who is also a world-renowned geologist decides he wants to go to Mars to find the answer to a question about faith which is pressing on him. Namely, why God would exterminate an entire intelligent species. His thread in the story seems to show two things: first, that fundamentalism is inherently incapable of responding to reason; second, that it is possible to have reasoned faith and science together. The second point is illustrated very well when DiNardo is finally on Mars. He suffers from a likely stroke and is dying and begins a dialog with God:

Why did you kill them, Lord? They were intelligent. They must have worshipped You in some form or other. Why kill them? How could you–

And then DiNardo understood. Like a calming wave of love and peace, comprehension flowed through his soul at last… God had taken the Martians to Him! Of course. It was so simple, so pure. I should have seen it earlier. I should have known. My faith should have revealed the truth to me.

The good Lord took the Martians to Him. He ended their trial of tears in this world and brought them to eternal paradise. They must have fulfilled their mission. They must have shown their Creator the love and faith that He demands from us all. So He gave them their eternal reward…

The light was getting so bright… Glaring. Brilliant… Like staring into the sun. Like looking upon the face of… (297-298)

So Bova does offer a counterbalance to fundamentalism, and I appreciate that portrayal. Although DiNardo’s death and his revelation receives very little further comment (and no further comment at all on the revelation), it seems as though it is positively portrayed.

A reason for criticism is that Bova is uncompromising with fundamentalists. I’ve already drawn out his portrayal of them, and it seems to me to be a bit disingenuous. Although there are plenty on the “religious right” who would be all too happy to be able to legislate all morality, control the media, and deny well-attested scientific findings, I have hardly found that to be the majority. And certainly, fundamentalism is not a homogeneous entity filled with people who are trying to control everyone else. I’ll grant that this is a work of fiction, but in light of how Weber was able to handle a fairly similar issue with respectful portrayals of the ‘other side,’ I had hoped for more from Bova, whose work I enjoy greatly. For Bova, it seems, religious dialogue is not a real possibility, with few exceptions. Fundamentalists are incapable of reasoning and are barely even convinced believers; rather they are using their positions of authority within their organizations to consolidate power and execute their own prerogatives on their witless followers.

Fair Discussion

It seems pretty clear to me that David Weber provided a better model for utilizing science fiction in religious dialogue than Ben Bova did. The people representing the ‘bad guys’ in Weber’s book did have some who were truly evil and/or beyond reason, but also had many with whom reason resonated. When confronted with rival views, they were thoughtful and even receptive. On the other hand, the characters with whom Bova disagreed were a true black/white dichotomy with the “good guys.” Fundamentalists were bad. Period. He portrayed them as power-hungry, censor-happy maniacs. Although there was one notable exception (the Catholic priest, DiNardo), who showed a bright spot for “believers” at large, he was by far the exception.

It seems clear this study has applications for real-world dialogue about religion. When we interact with other worldviews, we should be capable of treating the other side with the same kind of dignity we would like to be treated. Although other worldviews may have their extremists who will not respond to reason, our attitude should be that of the humble friend trying to explore the beliefs of the “other.” The “other” is not that which must be demonized, but rather understood and with which to interact.

More Reading

I explore the theological implications of life on other planets.

I discuss a book which will change the way you think about about the notion that religion is violent. It also deals with the notion of the religious “other” as a construct.- William Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence.

Sources

Ben Bova, Mars Life (New York: Tor, 2008).

David Weber, The Honor of the Queen (New York: Baen, 1993).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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