women in the church

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Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Points of Fracture: Women in the Church Part 1

The reasons I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod were complex. Whether it was the science I was taught as a child not aligning with reality or the misogynistic and racist actions of pastors and those training to be the same, or any of a number of other issues I had, these all were contributing factors. Now, I am going to spend some time on perhaps the biggest reason I am no longer part of the LCMS, which is their views on women in the church and home. This is a deeply personal subject for me, and I have numerous personal stories related to it. Names and other details may be modified for privacy.

Points of Fracture: Women in the Church, Part 1

My dad was an LCMS pastor, which meant that I’d only had a male pastor–him–my whole life. I don’t recall ever hearing anything about whether women could or could not be pastors as a young child. I met several other pastors and families, of course. My parents formed lasting friendships at seminary and many of their friends and circles they were in were LCMS pastors as well. I never really thought about the fact that all the pastors I met were men.

The first time I remember encountering anything about whether women could be pastors was in middle school, at an LCMS school. We were in small groups talking about future careers and in my group there was a girl who said she wanted to be a pastor when she grew up. Again, I’d never really thought about it one way or another that I can recall. I mentioned it to a few LCMS people in the school and was told that no, women couldn’t be pastors. It was against the Bible. Nothing could be a higher authority than that. There wasn’t an in-depth discussion of why women couldn’t be pastors, or what verses allegedly made that the case. It was just that: because the Bible says so. Carelessly, I then went back to that girl and told her she couldn’t be a pastor. Why not? Because the Bible says so. I felt a kind of righteous vindication, because I was telling her what God had said about what she could or couldn’t do. I’m sorry.

It wasn’t until college that I would have any further reflection on women pastors. After a deeply religious experience, I decided to become a pastor. Knowing the LCMS well, I knew that involved a kind of commitment to doctrinal purity. Whether it was biblical inerrancy, ordaining only men, or something else, I knew I had to be ready to fight the ways of the world when it came to these things. After the summer, I was in student leadership as a spiritual life representative–think of them kind of like Resident Assistants, but for spiritual life. We did devotions in the dorms, were there for talking, that kind of thing. I helped move the freshman in on their first day, and I met one young woman. We hit it off and decided to hang out later.

Later that week, I was at breakfast for pre-seminary students, those who were planning to go on to be pastors, and she showed up at the breakfast. I was stunned. Why… was she here? It turned out she was there because she was planning to study to become a pastor–something she was manifestly Not Supposed To Do. The series of events after that is difficult to piece together, but I know that the theological question of whether women could be pastors went from something I couldn’t be bothered to learn more about to something that I needed to be able to prove to others. I needed to be able to show that women should not be pastors.

Like some of my favorite literary characters, when confronted with a challenge to something I thought, I hit the books. And, like most people do, I hit the books on my own side to see how I could refute this belief. The first book I dove into was Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless. The book was published by Concordia Publishing House, the publishing arm of the LCMS. It had, in other words, a doctrinal seal of approval that meant I could trust implicitly anything that it had to say therein. I knew that this book would have the answers I was seeking. However, as I cracked the cover and skimmed through the chapters, I found some things of deep concern. While passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 were cited and used to silence women in the church, other exegesis did not align with what I was being taught about how to read the Bible.[1]

For example, in a chapter about the Trinity in the book, I read, “Even though [God the Son] is in all ways equal to the Father and in no way inferior to the Father, he is nevertheless utterly subordinate to the Father… Christ’s relation as Son to his Father is therefore characterized by his subordination to the headship of the Father” (222-223, first edition only, the chapter by John Kleinig). This was not what I’d learned about Trinitarian orthodoxy. Indeed, it seemed to be skirting the lines of Arianism. I was strongly put off. Much later, I’d learn that this chapter was either removed or heavily edited in a subsequent edition. At the time, I was shaken. If this was the kind of thing that got past official doctrinal review, what would it mean for other doctrinal issues?

Of course, this hardly caused a collapse of my position. Other chapters seemed more solid in their approach, and I felt like I was armed to show people, especially this young woman, why women shouldn’t be pastors after all. I don’t recall exactly how our discussion played out, but I do know it didn’t escalate into an outright argument. She decided to switch from the pre-seminary program to a different one, and I thought that’d be the end of it.

It wasn’t. The question was opened in my mind. It was even more open because I realized there were people who appeared to be faithful Christians who nevertheless believed women should be ordained and, shockingly, there were even ordained women pastors who weren’t clearly working to undermine Christianity at every step. I know this reads dramatically, but this is truly the way I thought, and certainly the way many pastors and others I interacted with thought about women pastors. The Bible, it is assumed, is simply so clear on whether women can be pastors that anyone who disagrees and even engages in the opposite practice absolutely must be some kind of heretical person or someone actively working to try to discredit Christianity. But because the question had been opened, I couldn’t just drop it. I kept investigating, despite the fact that the woman I was dating had changed course. This wasn’t the kind of thing I could just drop and leave aside. The very question of whether God was calling women into the ministry was at stake. If I really believed that God wanted to keep one half of the human population from even being possibly called by the Holy Spirit, I wanted to be sure that I was supremely confident that I was right.

I kept reading the Women Pastors? book, but became more and more disillusioned with the LCMS arguments against women pastors. Contradictory arguments abounded, and the exegetical principles used to conclude women couldn’t be pastors were simplistic even by the standards I was being taught in LCMS pre-seminary classes. It was like the pastors and theologians who’d written the book had abandoned things like the historical grammatical method when it came to this one issue.[2] I began to start asking questions, mostly in private, about the LCMS teaching on women pastors, but was met with either horror or a blanket statement about how clearly the Bible taught against it.

It’s worth a brief aside here at how often people–including more than one pastor–would try to silence the questions I was asking about women pastors or other issues by quoting Satan in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say?” [Genesis 3:1]. This was used time and again as an answer to any questioning of the LCMS’s supposedly clear and exclusively biblical teachings. So, when it came to Genesis 1-3 and I pointed out that it seemed to be based upon ANE myths while turning them on their heads to refute aspects of them, not a literal, blow-by-blow account creation, I was told that I was like Satan in saying “Did God really say” that creation happened a certain way. When I asked about whether a verse truly taught what I was told it did, I was again questioning not the interpretation, but the word of God itself: Did God really say what the LCMS said it did–oops–what the Bible says God did? This clobber passage in context, of course, isn’t intended the way these pastors and others were using it at all. Indeed, the phrase itself is ripped from the middle of a sentence from the serpent’s mouth in which he was asking specifically about whether God had told them not to eat from any tree in the garden. The way the passage was being used against me was abusive and did cause trauma. Imagine being told that you’re just like Satan, tempting others with your nefarious questions just because you genuinely care about and want to know what the Bible says. It’s terrible.

My questioning would continue as I kept reading more about the topic, but while I was no longer convinced the Bible taught women shouldn’t be pastors with certainty, I was also unconvinced by arguments that women should or could be pastors. I was stuck in a kind of confused middling view. It was deeply uncomfortable, and not just because the woman I was dating had agreed to change her life based upon my discomfort. No, the very way God worked to call people to the ministry was at question, and I struggled to find any reason why God wouldn’t call women apart from a trite “The Bible says God doesn’t do that” type of answer. But did the Bible say that, or did it only read that way if one adopted the overly-simplistic hermeneutic I saw time and again in LCMS works on the topic–a hermeneutic that was different from the one I was being taught in LCMS classrooms? It was a question that would loom larger soon.

Next Time: Women in the Church, Part 2

There had to be some kind of reason why women weren’t called to the ministry. Only in some older LCMS works or references to earlier Christian teaching on the topic would I find any kind of answer.

[1] I wrote more about this same phenomenon when it came to young earth creationism. Time and again, despite being told to read the Bible contextually and take care to try to find the original meaning, the historical sense, etc., I did not find that reading reflected in LCMS teaching or reading of various texts. And, when I challenged those readings, I was told that I was challenging the text itself.

[2] I have been critically reviewing the Women Pastors? book chapter-by-chapter. Not all of the issues I raise with it in my reviews were ones I realized at the time I’m writing about now, but the more one reads the book, the more one realizes the poorly argued nature of it. See also note 1 above and the link therein about how I found on other issues the hermeneutical method I was being taught and the one actually being used did not align.

Book Review: “Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts” by Andrew Bartlett

Andrew Bartlett’s Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts is a major study on the question of how women and men are to relate to each other according to the Bible. Bartlett approaches the question from a more judicial approach, using his experience as an arbitrator as well as his background in theology to shed light on the biblical texts.

The book is more than 400 pages of text and it is filled to the brim with exegetical insights. The first chapter is about tradition and unity; the second explores 1 Corinthians 7’s implications for marriage and male-female relations; the third interprets Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5; the fourth focuses more closely on Ephesians 5; the fifth examines what Genesis 1-3 has to tell us about men and women; the sixth looks at 1 Peter; the seventh through the eighth focus on 1 Corinthians 11; the ninth and tenth look at the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and its place in Scripture; the eleventh through the thirteenth are about 1 TImothy 2; the fourteenth surveys the biblical evidence for women leaders; the fifteenth asks about women elders in light of 1 Timothy 3; the sixteenth and final chapter brings the conclusions together and offers a way forward. Appendices explore methods of biblical interpretation, arguments against mutual submission, uses of the Greek word authenteo, the structure of 1 Timothy 2:12, interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:15, shortcomings in complementarian readings of 1 Timothy 2, and translation issues.

Bartlett begins with a chapter on “revising tradition, seeking unity” in which he looks into how these issues have become as divisive as they are alongside the development of various views. Here it is particularly of interest that Bartlett spends some time arguing that the “complementarian” view is not the traditional view of the church. It is demonstrably the case that complementarianism is not, in fact, that traditional view, despite many of its proponents claiming that title. Bartlett shows that the traditional view, in fact, viewed women as ontologically inferior to men. Woman, on that view, was by nature inferior. By contrast, Jesus explicitly went against his cultural conventions and elevated women throughout the NT. Additionally, modern complementarianism at least claims to support the equality of men and women, itself a direct contradiction to the traditional view.

1 Corinthians 7 is extremely important to the questions related to male-female relations. Bartlett notes that this chapter gives the only explicit details about how decisions are to be made in marriage. Despite the clear importance of this passage to the questions at hand, then, it is curious that so few complementarians offer thorough exegesis of the text. Bartlett notes the various qualities of male-female relations brought to the front in this text, including that they have equal duties in the marriage bed, equal authority to the other partner, the same advice to both widowers and widows, same restrictions on divorce, same rule about unbelievers for men and women, the spiritual impact of the spouses on each toher, the same advice for engaged persons of either sex, the same advice for married/unmarried persons of either sex, and more (25-26).

1 Peter finds that husbands are to give honor in the same way as wives are to do so. English translations may obfuscate the mutuality of the relevant passages, but in 1 Peter 3:7 there is a clear wording that parallels Peter’s other use of the same notion, thus leading to the conclusion that the honor/respect that many complementarians so often attribute only to the male side of the relationship is mistaken. Bartlett challenges egalitarians to see that there are specific biblical obligations for husbands to wives that he says are “asymmetrical” and thus not something wives must do. Specifically, the concept of self-sacrifice, argues Bartlett, is something husbands are called to do in marriage (62-64). His argument here is indeed challenging, but one might counter that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence–having “asymmetry” in this specific instances does not imply asymmetry in function with certainty.

Bartlett’s careful exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11 deserves a thorough read. Essentially, he notes the various unjustified conclusions from word studies people have drawn from this text. Additionally, he notes problems with Trinitarian theology as taken from the text. The question of what exactly is the “veil/symbol of authority/etc.” looms large, and Bartlett makes a convincing case for reading these passages as referencing sources and hairstyles (143-148). Additionally, he argues that the reading of “a woman ought to have authority over her head” is to be preferred because it avoids major pitfalls of rival views (148ff). It both goes along with Paul’s context in which he specifically mentions women praying and prophesying and also fits in with the concepts related to “source” in the passages.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is one of the best known passages in this debate, and Bartlett makes a convincing case, going along with several other scholars, that this text is, in fact, an interpolation that was not in the original text. This is due to both internal and external evidence, such as preserving the unity of thought in the letter, questions about what the verses are supposed to be referencing, and numerous textual evidences related to the floating of the text in different locations as well as marks that indicate it is likely an interpolation.

1 Timothy 2 is another major section of the book, and Bartlett does a service by laying out the context of the text in great detail. There is little doubt that 1 Timothy was written to discuss false teachings and false teachers, with numerous mentions throughout the letter as well as in 2 Timothy of these problems. Bartlett, however, goes more deeply into the context and uses primary sources to note that it appears as though the letter is referencing astrology specifically in numerous places and that the false teaching is related to sorcery/astrology. This puts 1 Timothy 2:9-12 contextually in a discussion of wealthy women with ungodly conduct who should learn to do good works and learn in full submission to God. The nature of the letter as a periodical sent for a specific purpose must not be ignored.

A survey of women church leaders leads to numerous examples of women in various leadership roles in the church. This leads into a discussion of 1 Timothy 3 and whether women may be elders. English translations have mangled these verses in a number of ways, adding male pronouns prolifically where there are none. Additionally, interpreters have failed to take into account that the list of qualifications parallels qualifications Paul explicitly gives for women throughout the letter as well (318-319).

Bartlett ends the book with a call for Christian unity in spite of sharp disagreements on the place of men and women in the church and alongside each other.

If there is one point of critique of I have for Bartlett’s work, it is the occasional uncritical acceptance of anecdotal evidence in questions of modern application. Nowhere is this more clear than in Bartlett’s discussion of the alleged inherent differences of men and women on pages 82-83. Here, Bartlett chides egalitarians for being “sometimes shy of acknowledging innate differences between men and women” (82). What evidence does Bartlett offer for his own perspective, that some differences beyond child-bearing are “innate”? He offers a journalist’s comment from a game show in the UK, who, in trying to offer a good reason why two all-male teams should be the best representatives for a quiz show, offered the example of her husband who arranges his books in alphabetical and chronological order, and whose “proudest boast is that while on holiday in North Wales in 1974, he won a hubcap identification competition. Who could compete with that? Who would want to?” (82-83). It is honestly difficult to fathom how this single anecdote can be taken seriously as an example of alleged innate differences between the sexes. [Edit: The author contacted me and let me know this was intended as a joke–a possible cultural miss on my part not understanding the joke. I’ve made a correction in the rest of this paragraph.] He also offers a footnote referencing a study that argues for hard-wired differences in how male/female brains have differences. I haven’t read that study, so I can’t comment on it specifically. Again, this is a minor complaint in a massive text, but it seemed out of place and worth commenting on.

Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts is a monumental achievement. It sets standards for rigor as well as for Bartlett’s attempt to find unity in Christ among such hotly contested issues. Anyone who is truly interested in engaging in the questions related to women in the church and home from a Christian perspective will find this book a must read. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)



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.

Book Review: “Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ” by Cynthia Long Westfall

[U]ntil very recently (ca. 1980s), traditional readings [of Bible passages related to women] have assumed the ontological inferiority of women through the entire history of interpretation, and it is implausible to think that an interpreter can effectively shed the foundational assumptions of the traditional view and still coherently maintain the remainder of interpretations and applications virtually intact. (4)

[T]raditional readings of the texts have been used and are being used overtly in a social construction of a theology of power and control that privileges one group over another (males over females), and those readings are controlled by the privileged group (males). (4)

Cynthia Long Westfall’s Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ brings forward insights from hermeneutics, linguistics, sociology, history, and insight into the ancient world to present a consistent reading of the Pauline corpus in regards to gender. Westfall contends that the traditional reading of the text must face the challenge that it does not consistently read the Pauline corpus, but rather tends to prioritize certain readings of texts over other texts, rather than trying to unify them. A lack of consistent methodology is also a problem, as hermeneutic method changes depending upon what the text is taken to defend (3). Moreover, traditional readings of the texts are “problematic,” she argues, for several reasons: first, the traditional readings of the texts “have not resulted in making sense of Paul’s Letters” (ibid); second, these readings of the texts are making a theology of power (4); third, the ontological basis for the traditional reading has largely been acknowledged as mistaken (see the first quote, above); fourth, both the individual and the group can make significant contributions to and impact on interpretation. For these reasons, Westfall suggests a return to the texts to see what they actually mean in context, again, drawing on linguistics, contemporary cultural studies, and many more disciplines.

Westfall organizes the book topically, looking at how various topics relate to Paul and gender. These topics are culture, stereotypes, creation, the Fall, eschatology, the body, calling, authority, and an extended look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15. By organizing the book largely around these important topics in Paul’s thought, Westfall avoids the somewhat common theme of books about sexuality in Christianity of looking at one proof text after another to come down on one side or the other. Instead, Westfall presents a cohesive, rational way for looking at the whole of the Pauline corpus, yes, through looking at individual texts, but also by uniting Paul’s thought and bringing in insights from various fields.

Time and again throughout Paul and Gender, I came upon a way of looking at things I hadn’t considered before. Westfall’s use of linguistics and deep knowledge of the cultural context of the New Testament leads to arguments and conclusions that are powerful and compelling. Some of her points seem obvious on reflection, but were points I have rarely if ever seen discussed in literature related to men and women in Christ. For example, regarding 1 Timothy 2:13, she notes that in Genesis, from which Paul is drawing his point, primogeniture is constantly reversed. That theme is one I had learned and put forward myself, but I hadn’t thought about how it could be applicable to understanding Paul’s use of Adam first/Eve next in 1 Timothy. Why is it that complementarians repeatedly make a bald assumption that primogeniture is seen by Paul as an inherent hierarchy between man and woman when Paul is specifically using an example from a book where primogeniture is consistently overthrown by God? Her extensive look at 1 Corinthians 11 helps to make it even more clear how difficult it is to adequately understand some of these texts as English speakers. Through conversation with many contemporary sources, she conclusively demonstrates that the notion of the man being “head” is not a hierarchy. Moreover, her reading of what is meant by calling woman the glory of man as well as her interpretation of why women should have a kind of covering over their heads is one that answers many, many questions for me as a reader. By showing what, culturally, was going on in Corinth and the church in general, she presents readings that explain the text rather than obscure it further–or turn it into a proof text for a specific position.

The greatest strength of Westfall’s approach is that it truly does present a unified look at the Pauline corpus. Rather than having to look at texts piecemeal and form a series of doctrinal theses therefrom, Westfall’s reading of the texts related to gender present a consistent, holistic view of Paul’s teaching on gender. It is a truly remarkable book that deserves careful reading. I spent several hours on the chapter on “culture” alone, finding many deep insights both in the main text and the footnotes. As a reader, I feel as though I have a much deeper and more complete understanding of Paul on these topics than I did before I read it.

With Paul and Gender, Cynthia Long Westfall has created one of the most profoundly exegetical and deep challenges to the complementarian reading of the Pauline Corpus in existence. Her breadth of knowledge of many different fields of studies is effectively utilized to present a cohesive, persuading reading of Paul regarding gender. May all who are interested in finding what the New Testament teaches on gender read this book.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)



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.

Really Recommended Posts 10/21/16- Reading the Bible, a pro-life argument, and more!

postGo Cubs! Enjoy the reads.

The What-He-Did: The Poetic Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith– Cordwainer Smith was a Christian who also happened to be an expert in psychological warfare, among other things. He wrote science fiction that is strange and alluring and poetic all at once, and imbued with his worldview.

Spoilers– Too often, we assume that because we’ve read it before, or know the “spoilers” of the story, we know exactly what the Bible is teaching. Is that really the case?

The Most Undervalued Argument in the Pro-Life Movement– A defense of a rather simple argument for the pro-life position.

Let’s All Be Nicene– The continuing debate over eternal subordination of the Son is, frankly, disturbing to me. I think the call to be Nicene is an appropriate one. This is a post highlighting some of the issues with those who are for eternal subordination of the Son and its problems.

6 Myths About Advocating for Women in Ministry– Don’t be deceived by false arguments that advocating for women in the ministry is somehow detrimental to the church.

“Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”– A brief account and reflection on Luther’s famous words.

Really Recommended Posts 5/6/16- creationism and the Grand Canyon, Deborah, and more!

Deborah judging in Israel

Deborah judging in Israel

It’s another week and I’m here to bring you some more great reading for your weekend. Be sure to let the authors know what you think, and let me know here as well. Topics for this week include the Grand Canyon and the biblical Flood, Deborah as leader, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and more!

Deborah and the “no available men” argument– A refutation of the notion that Deborah was only chosen to lead Israel because there were “no available men” who could or would do so. Unfortunately, this argument is fairly common among those who do not wish to affirm the Bible’s teaching on women’s equal leadership.

The Grand Canyon’s Magnificent Witness to Earth’s History– Often, young earth creationists argue that the Grand Canyon can only be explained (or at least is better explained) by the biblical Flood as a global flood. A new book is challenging that perception. Check out this post to learn more.

7 Things to Know about Jehovah’s Witnesses– It is important to understand others’ beliefs. Here is a post outlining 7 points of belief for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Calamity (The Reckoners)– Superheroes and villains face off with those who seek vengeance against those villains who destroyed their world. Check out this look at worldview issues in Brandon Sanderson’s latest Young Adult novel, Calamity. Also check out my own reflection on the book.


Really Recommended Posts 4/11/14- submission, creationism, and apologetics!

postI’m really itching for a game of Ultimate Frisbee. Seriously, can the snow please melt? Anyway, this week I’m presenting for your reading pleasure a slew of high quality posts on the (non-)tasks of the apologist, submission, “street epistemology,” presuppositionalism, and young earth creationism. How’s that for a lineup? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! I love to read what you think. Have a link to share? Drop it here with your own thoughts on it, and I may include it next time!

What an Apologist’s Job is NOT– Melissa Cain Travis offers some extremely sound advice on things to avoid as an apologist. This is a very practical post and a most read for those of us involved in apologetics. Read it!

On Submitting to One Another– What does it mean to submit? How does the notion of submission to one another play out in the church? Check out this thoughtful post by Paul D. Adams on these topics.

On Interacting with Street Epistemologists– Nick Peters has spent some time interacting with “street epistemologists” trained by atheist Peter Boghossian. Here, he shares some of his insights gained from this task. If you’re unfamiliar with the Boghossian, I highly recommend you check out “Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician.”

Picture Charades: Do you know your presuppositional apologists?– A fun activity of identifying key presuppositional thinkers. I take an integrative approach to apologetics, so I think it is important to read evidentialists, presuppositionalists, classical apologists, and yes, even fideists.

An Ancient and Alien Forest Reconstructed: A Challenge for young earth creationism– How might the forests of the past present difficulties for young earth creationism? Well, read the post to find out! It’s well worth it.


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.


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.


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.



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.

“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.

Quick Link: N.T. Wright on Women in the Ministry

Eminent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham, is an egalitarian. Yes, he knows Pauline writing, and he believes women can (and should) be pastors. Check out his wonderfully lucid article on the topic: here.

Here are some choice quotes:

Mary Magdalene and the others are the apostles to the apostles. We should not be surprised that Paul calls a woman named Junia an apostle in Romans 16.7. If an apostle is a witness to the resurrection, there were women who deserved that title before any of the men.

In regards to 1 Timothy 2:

The key to the present passage, then, is to recognise that it is commanding that women, too, should be allowed to study and learn, and should not be restrained from doing so (verse 11). They are to be ‘in full submission’; this is often taken to mean ‘to the men’, or ‘to their husbands’, but it is equally likely that it refers to their attitude, as learners, of submission to God or to the gospel – which of course would be true for men as well. Then the crucial verse 12 need not be read as ‘I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man’ – the translation which has caused so much difficulty in recent years. It can equally mean (and in context this makes much more sense): ‘I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.’ Why might Paul need to say this?

Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organising male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, with one feature of that being that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them.

Really, check out the rest of his article.

Check out my argument for women pastors: here.






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