Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 1 (Gupta)

I (Nijay Gupta) have been an egalitarian for over 15 years. So, I am definitely long overdue for expressing my views in an extended, written format. There will be a large number of posts in this series, so stay tuned.

Starting from the beginning

Before getting into biblical and theological arguments and views, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about my story.

I became a believer as a teenager. In college (at a secular university), I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ and the Navigators. I went to a conservative evangelical (non-denominational) church. In those years, I started to read books by theologians and Christian leaders—C. S. Lewis, Max Lucado, Dallas Willard, Jerry Bridges, Ravi Zacharias and especially John Piper (this was the ‘90’s!). I did not have a very well thought out view of what women should or should not do in ministry. Either I had never seen or heard of a woman pastor, or I assumed anyone associated with such views just didn’t take the Bible very seriously.

I subscribed to what I call “package theology.” If I found a scholar convincing in one area of theology, then they must be “right” in all areas—hence, I bought their “package.” So with Piper, I liked his writings on glorifying God, I liked his work on missions, so I took his whole package, which includes a strict view that men alone ought to lead churches. (I was so enamored with Piper that I once drove 14 hours from southern Ohio to Dallas to hear Piper preach at Dallas Theological Seminary.)

And yet, even in my college days, there were a few things that contradicted or challenged some of my assumptions about women in leadership. First, there was an amazing staff leader with Campus Crusade named Jane Armstrong. Everyone who knew her respected her deeply; she was and is wise, godly, mature, caring, and competently led many men and women on missions trips (including myself). But, in Crusade’s leadership system, she could never be the campus director because she is a woman. She could be an associate campus director (which she was), but a man must be the director. (That is what I had heard.) But why?

A second thing during that time stuck with me. When I went home in the summers, I would help out with my home church, and I did an internship there as well. My church believed that women were not allowed to be “pastors.” But there was a female director of children’s ministry on staff. She was very wise, much beloved in the community, and she went on the “pastors’ retreat” every year (I know that because as an intern I went once as well). For all intents and purposes, she was indeed a “pastor.” But the church used a terminology loophole to maintain what they considered a biblical view.

It wasn’t until I attended seminary that I really took a hard look at the issue of women in ministry. I went to Gordon-Conwell where there were faculty on both sides of the debate. To be perfectly honest, I was still staunchly complementarian my first year of seminary. In fact, I wrote my first systematic theology paper on this (self-chosen topic): “Why Women Shouldn’t Be Pastors.” (I got an “A” on the paper, btw). But in my second year of seminary, I went through a long journey of thinking and study that led me to the opposite conclusion. So I wrote my final (3rd year) systematic theology paper on this subject: “Why Women Should Be Pastors” (I also got an “A” on that one!)

What changed my mind? It wasn’t one single thing. Rather, it was the erosion of the false confidence I had in my complementarian view. Almost all of the assumptions I had about the key biblical texts were not as secure as I had assumed, once I dug into the academic discussions. Furthermore, I continued to meet and become aware of respected evangelical scholars who supported women in ministry (people like Walter Kaiser, Gordon Fee, Howard Marshall, and F. F. Bruce). This started to disassemble that Piper “package” I had once bought into. Thirdly, I got to know some evangelical women scholars who supported women in ministry (esp. Catherine Kroeger, for whom I eventually served as a research assistant), and to my surprise, they were wonderful, conservative, Bible-loving, God-honoring scholars.

In my experience, people do not often change their mind just by reading biblical scholarship- although the exegesis matters greatly. Rather, for me, I was stuck on trying to ponder the rationale and logic of male-only pastors. We all know incredibly gifted women who are highly competent to serve as leaders (I’m married to one!). If anyone ever tells you, “do this, because the Bible says so,” but they can’t explain why, that is bad theology and ethics.

So that is the beginning of my story. More to come; next up…”Setting the Table: Terms and Translations.”

[Disclaimer: rude comments will be removed; constructive comments and questions will be permitted and I will try to interact with as many as I can.]


12 thoughts on “Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 1 (Gupta)

  1. I greatly look forward to the rest of this series. Please interact with the texts. Will you interact with how our ecclesiology should or should not be informed by the Levites and priesthood in the OT.

    1. Levitical priests were only allowed to be between certain ages and must come from the lineage of Aaron. The fact they were men also just made sense, as women were disqualified much of the time due to ceremonial uncleanliness. That obviously doesn’t apply today.

      But moreso, by the work of the Spirit, we are all “priests” (1 Peter 2), with no differentiation based on gender.

  2. Write on, brother! I graduated from GCTS in 2017 in Biblical Studies (at age 58). I am currently in a season of deep study about this topic and it is upending all I was “taught” in church. Which I was in fact not taught at all, there was just a message implied in everything I saw and experienced in my precious church over the last 29 years. GCTS did not teach me WHAT to think about women in ministry. Instead, it taught me how to discern for myself what Scripture both teaches and shows about women in ministry. Now I am deep into this study, with the help of Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight, Craig Keener and others. I am so grateful for the education I received there, even if I still have not found a job……because #womeninministry is a hard sell in the evangelical world. Keep posting!

    1. Be encouraged, Briane. I am interacting with women pastors all the time, and at my seminary, the ministry students are mostly women and it is very exciting.

  3. Really enjoyed reading this Nijay. My story on this issue has a lot of similarities to yours. I came to Fuller seminary a staunch complimentarian. Then I took classes with David Scholer, Marianne Meye Thompson, Don Hagner, and others. They played a significant role in my change of mind and heart because of what they modeled for me. And I wrote my systematics paper for Colin Brown on this very issue—affirming women. Looking forward to more from you on this!

  4. Interesting post. Especially, given the recent controversy with Beth Moore preaching at a church on a Sunday morning. Are you making a distinction between a generalized women serving in the “ministry” vs. women “preaching/teaching” men? I am genuinely interested in your view since, I am sure you would not have overlooked the scripture which expressly forbids the latter: 1 Timothy 2:12-14 “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”

    In this text, Paul is appealing to the order of creation which transcends time and culture. So, I am curious how one maintains the authority and inerrancy of scripture while simultaneously harmonizing this text with a modern evangelical view which is accepting of a women’s leadership role over men in pastoral ministry? This is a sincere curiosity that would be very helpful to understand in order to know how we can support and promote our wives, daughters, sisters and mothers in their desire to serve at the highest potential levels of ministry while not devaluing our obedience to the authority of scripture in this area of the church order and spiritual life.

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