Answers to Questions
How do we know when commands in Scripture are universal vs. contextually limited/cultural?
Often we can sense it based on context (“do not commit adultery”—that’s clearly universal!). But sometimes it is very difficult because the Bible contains so many different genres and you extrapolate ethics somewhat differently based on that. When it comes to Paul’s letters, there are a few ways to be sure—repetition: do we see it in several contexts? Clear and common language; or, the put it the other way around, when Paul uses rare and unusual terms or vocabulary, it leads one to believe the situation is more restricted. On this particular issue, I find the central texts (1 Cor 11, 14, 1 Tim 2) have such peculiar arguments and vocabulary that it hardly proves universal barring of women in ministry leadership. On some of the methodological matters, see my article: “Mirror-Reading Moral Issues in Paul.”
What do you think about wives’ submission in the home?
I believe Scripture’s ideal is stated in Eph 5:21: mutual submission. I’m not even really sure what female “submission” would look like. My wife and I talk through and share all decisions. Sometimes I go with what she wants, sometimes (perhaps often) she goes with my preference, because she is very generous and thoughtful. On “big” issues, I can’t imagine it would be helpful for me to dictate to her anything. I can confess I often lack common sense, and she is very wise, so I trust her. At home, I do the cooking, she does laundry and cleaning, she does a lot of the yard work, I get the cars serviced and pay bills—we don’t care much for traditional gender roles in the home. What works is that we both try to live out the fruit of the Spirit in our marriage, and we have a happy marriage. We are just husband and wife working together to live for Christ. We have our challenges like anyone else, but power dynamics is not one of them. (Craig Keener has a nice little essay on mutual submission)
Is women in ministry a make-or-break issue? What is at stake?
I would not go as far as saying that my complementarian friends are unsaved or preaching heresy. But I think that if our churches are 60% women, and we cut them out of decision-making in the church, and we silence their powerful voices, that comes at a high price and leaves the church diminished and weak. I will have a final post on what my hopes are for this issue in the future.
If I read just one book on the subject to learn more, what do you recommend?
If you have the time and know a bit already about the subject, read Discovering Biblical Equality. If you are newer to the discussion, read Derek and Dianne Tidball’s The Message of Women.
If shared ministry (men and women) is the ideal, how did the church so quickly become patriarchal in its dominant forms?
That is not my expertise, I must confess, but I would say that the NT doesn’t come right out and say, “Hey, make women pastors!” It sets the foundation and sows the seeds for it, and the 2nd century and 3rd century Christians needed to move that idea forward, and by and large, they didn’t. I think church tradition has its place, we need to respect the decisions of those who came before us, but we know they weren’t always right. There are some amazing female voices from the Patristic world that we have neglected. Learn more about Macrina the Younger.
What are the most effective tools to create change in the church around this issue?
Writing books has been our usual tactic, and that is good, of course, but it is not enough. This is not going to sound very theological, but I have learned that for change to be widespread, we need to influence influencers. That means gracious and trust-filled conversations with soft complementarians. That means developing relationships with those with whom we disagree, avoiding lobbing grenades, rejecting name-calling, speaking with respect. This can be hard sometimes, but it is the only way to earn a voice.