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When No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd came out, I bought copies for many of the key women in the church. I thought it would help them as they think about ministry to women in our congregation. They have been meeting periodically to discuss what they are reading.

My wife, after she read it, thought I should read it. It is also intended for the officers of the church to help them think through their congregation’s ministry to women. As a result, it was one of the books for my vacation/study leave.

“This is a book that aims to help the whole church by examining church initiatives for a group that makes up over half of our congregations- the women. … My hope is that this book will help both pastors and elders to shepherd the women in their congregations, and to encourage women to thrive under the ministry of Word and sacrament, so that it flows out to the whole church, to their homes, and to their communities.” From the Introduction

Aimee Byrd has been blogging as the Housewife Theologian for years. This has turned into being an author and a cohost of The Mortification of Spin podcast with Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt. She, along with her husband and three children, are members of an OPC church.

She approaches this subject from a complementarian viewpoint. She affirms male headship of home and church. But she also pushes back against some forms of complementarianism as well as patriarchy. For instance, she takes issue with Piper on his views on which jobs are suitable for women outside the church. I think she is right to do so. In my opinion, in this view Piper sounds like he holds to patriarchy (he doesn’t, but is so far right on some points that it’s “leaky”, even though he affirmed women deacons on the left side of the spectrum). Byrd uses Pearl as an example of some bad theology, particular excerpts that espouse a form of patriarchy (the view that women are subject to men irrespective of their relationship).

She doesn’t see women as inferior or second class citizens of the kingdom of God. She has a vibrant view of ezer, or helper/ally. Women are called alongside their husbands to fulfill the creation mandate, not just to make babies and clean house. They are to study and learn, teach, encourage and serve the broader church. She wants to empower women to serve to the fullest of their abilities within the bounds God has established (though she doesn’t really interact with the different views on this, even among complementarians). Now that you know where she is coming from ….

Byrd breaks the book up into 4 parts. She begins with Pinpointing a Real Problem, then Examining Our Context, to Working toward a Solution and lastly Honing our Skills. There is a logical movement within the book. In the process there is plenty of theology, examples for illustration, and helpful ideas. There are also a few minor idiosyncrasies (I’m sure I’ve got a few myself). It is well-written and accomplishes its purpose. There was only one chapter in which I was left scratching my head because I was thinking “And…” since it really didn’t (in my opinion) answer the question.

What is the problem? It is two-fold in a sense. First, ministry to women is often isolated from the rest of the church. The officers of the church don’t want to be bothered and grant the women a fiefdom free from interference. Second, the books written for women are often filled with bad theology that often undermines the theology of the congregation. Byrd goes back to the temptation of Eve to understand this. Satan started with attacking Eve to undermine Adam. As Satan continues to war against the saints, he still employs this strategy. Why is this so important know? Often it is the women who are teaching the children. Multiple generations can be infected with bad theology or methods of interpretation.

“In his malevolent shrewdness, Satan when for the woman. He went after Adam’s gift from God, his bride. That was indeed a clever way to get to Adam. So it isn’t surprising today that Satan goes after Christ’s bride, his church, with the same distortion of God’s word.” (pp. 20)

She is right to point out these errors in books marketed especially for women. Many authors & speakers undermine the authority of the Scriptures by claiming to “hear” from God apart from the Scriptures (which is how the Spirit speaks, thru the Scriptures read or preached). Many are prone to eisegesis (reading into the text) rather than exegesis (reading out of the text). And there are all manner of doctrinal issues with regard to the Trinity, Christ, sin, redemption. Many promote false gospels as well. There is a profound lack of discernment, largely because church leaders haven’t been developing the skills for discernment to the women of the church (and often because pastors can exhibit some of these same problems in their sermons).

Aimee references how Paul addresses this problem in 2 Timothy 3:6-7.

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

She spends quite a few pages interacting with this text. Women then were being targeted. In particular, weak women. Not all women are weak, or better translated gullible. False teachers don’t seek to corrupt competent and equipped women. Like wolves they look for those who are gullible, guilty and immature. In Timothy’s context and ours, those wolves were in the church. Godly leaders must seek these women out too and help them to become competent and equipped.

She develops the idea of woman as a necessary ally (ezer). She is in covenant with the man she helps, they are married. Women  are not helpers to men generally, but a specific man. God is also a necessary ally to those to whom He is covenantally bound. The OT use of this term for God means such an ally is not servile or inferior. The ally has resources and a commitment to use them for the well-being of the other. Byrd notes a quote by Spurgeon long before Toula’s mother said the same thing to her.

Theology is essential for women, not just men. Paul supported the idea of women learning, just as Jesus did. In this way the neck can turn the head in good directions.

Having identified the problem(s), she addresses the context in which we live. She goes back to Genesis 1-3. Eve, as Adam’s ally, entertained Adam’s enemy. Even in really good places like the Garden love is vulnerable. Satan didn’t want them to expand the garden-temple throughout the earth. What was important was God’s mission. Marriage, among believers, is about God’s mission. They work together to accomplish it, not their own personal dreams and kingdoms. She does some theology connected Adam the First with Adam the Second (aka, Jesus) to understand creation, fall & redemption. Christ is restoring our relationships, our households and our churches (the household of God) as He applies redemption in both justification and sanctification. Here she mentions another problem, women’s ministry often focuses on “being a woman”, not simply on being a mature Christian who happens to be a woman. But her primary focus is developing a robust view of competent, godly women. In their household and God’s. She mentions the many women in both the OT and NT who were highly involved in God’s mission as prophets, patrons, servants, etc.

In her zeal for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, she has one of her idiosyncrasies. She doesn’t like the term women’s ministry, thinking it devalues the ministry of Word and Sacrament. We don’t need to talk about women’s initiatives (or men’s, children’s etc.). I think we can all understand that though separate, they are not ultimately distinct. We are serving these portions of the church by and thru the Word even if it isn’t the Word preached.

When she moves toward a solution, she begins with the question of men learning from women. This was the headscratcher of a chapter. On the positive side she mentions how all of us learn from women who are in Scripture, like the songs of Hannah and Mary. There are also those instances when women taught men directly (Hulda, Pricilla). Those passages aren’t “for women only”. This is also a chapter in which she pushes back against some of Piper’s stranger comments.  There was also an odd rabbit trail on Anne Hutchinson and Aimee Semple McPherson. It reiterated the idea that in the quest to be heard, some women talk about hearing direct messages from God. This would be more suitable in the first section of the book. The head scratching came in discussing parachurch ministries and the use of women speakers at conferences. Conferences are confusing. They have times of worship utilizing many of the elements of worship, and I’m not sure how you differentiate between a conference speech/lecture and a sermon. She seemed to not be quite clear. I will not be excommunicated for disagreeing with any teaching given at a conference (though some churches should consider excommunicating people who go to particular conferences, I am sort of kidding). Conferences are voluntary and there is no “membership” or discipline. Personally I have no problem with a woman speaking at such a conference intended for mixed audience. Perhaps it is my experiences at Ligonier where women like Elizabeth Elliot and Joni would speak. They didn’t clear out the men, and I don’t think they should. I can learn from women, and should learn from women. Like reading this book. I just felt like she didn’t answer the question, and experienced some cognitive dissonance.

In later chapters she focuses on what it looks like to be a competent ally. While there were some good thoughts there, I wish she could have developed a few more and been a bit less reliant on John McKinley, adding some of her own ideas to the mix. She identifies the three traits of a competent ally as equipped, having resolve and discerning. This last one takes up much of the rest of the book as Byrd discusses how to read, how to interpret and how to assess false teaching (not all false teaching is equal since not all doctrines have equal priority). This is the most practical section, obviously. And she doesn’t short-change it. She then provides examples for the reader to apply what they have learned with excerpts of books with bad theology, methods of interpretation or statements that undermine the Scriptures. You are encouraged to note the problems to develop greater discernment. She provides a caveat, she doesn’t want to put authors on a “do not read” list. This is not a discernment blog approach, and we shouldn’t have such an approach. Discernment isn’t just about spotting the bad, but also affirming the good.

She wraps up with a chapter on preaching and teaching to women. The focus is on men, the officers of the church. She wants to help us help the women under our care. This is in keeping with her stated purpose for the book.

I think she did a good job fulfilling the purpose of the book. At times she put material that may have been better suited for another section. But as one whose book is in the process of being published, I recognize how hard it can be to do. There is no air lock between sections, sealing content or ideas. There was enough theology to keep me engaged (not simply personal stories strung together to make a point) and she applied it well. I think this is a good book for church officers and key women to read so congregations can better minister to (serve) the women in their midst so they become fully mature in Christ.

 

 

 

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Someone recently sent me a link to R.C. Sproul’s lesson on The Role of Women in the Church. She had only a little info about the PCA study committee and was concerned. I allayed some fears, but since this is probably one of the few older Sproul lessons I haven’t heard I decided to listen to it with the officers of our congregation at a combined meeting.

This is so old that Bill Hybels made a guest appearance. I believe the context is that R.C. was asked to talk to a group of people at Willow Creek. In the intervening years, it would be safe to say that they have probably changed their position on this subject.

Here is something of a summary from the notes that I took.

Protest movements have real pain behind them at their roots despite their sometimes illegitimate actions. The Feminist movement is no different. It is a response to patronizing attitudes and exploitation. Women have not been treated well by men in society, and in the church.

On the other hand, the church has not missed the truth about women and ministry for 2,000 years. The question of who may be ordained is either determined by God, or my subjective evaluation of who is gifted to serve. The qualifications, particularly with regard to character, either matter or they don’t.

R.C. alluded to when he was in the United Presbyterian Church. The largely egalitarian denomination permitted men to hold the complementarian position. This changed after an ecclesiastical court case and officers like R.C. were told to change their views, leave for another denomination or face disciplinary action.

R.C. noted that he wrote a minority report for the PCA favoring the ordination of women. This requires some explanation, obviously. He has no prejudice against women. He wants to be as liberal on this question as the Scriptures allow him to be. In this context he mentioned a debate at Gordon-Conwell (or perhaps he said Gordon College where he taught for a time) years earlier when he was the only faculty member willing to take up the complementarian position. For him, the question always traces back to 1 Timothy 2.

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

This passage, he believes and I concur, does not allow women in positions of authority in the church. Some kind of teaching and some kind of authority are prohibited. He noted there were different kinds of “authority”. There can the authority of expertise or influence. The type in question is judicial or governing authority.

Judicial authority is the right to command and demand the actions of others. Paul restricts judicial authority over men in the church. The context is ecclesiastical, so this is limited by that context. Women may have authority in the workplace or school and other contexts. He rejects patriarchy.

There is also the general vs. technical sense of teaching. He believes this refers to teaching with ecclesiastical authority.

The general term for office is diaconos- service. Church office is an office of service. We do not lord it over others like the Gentiles do.

Women are not allowed to sit in judicial power- to be on the session or an elder.

The PCA ties government to ministry in what he thinks is an unbiblical way. This is why he generally supports women deacons, but doesn’t in the PCA. The BOCO indicates that though an office of service, it has power or authority (though not a court so it is fairly confusing and one of those things I’d love to see clarified in the BOCO). Sproul thinks that preaching does not necessarily have governmental authority because the court is not in session during preaching. At this point R.C. and Bill discussed Elizabeth Elliot who refused to preach at Willow Creek on a Sunday morning. Bill invited her to come during the week. R.C. had her “speak” a few times at Ligonier c0nferences (that is not a local church and does not have an ecclesiastical governing body).

Our officers commented that perhaps this means a woman could be an assistant pastor since they don’t serve on the Session. But they do serve in the courts of presbytery and General Assembly so don’t take the joke seriously.

R.C. noted that he sometimes worries that his position is too liberal (and some PCA pastors would agree). But he needs to be faithful to the text, which is opponent in the aforementioned debate agreed supports the complementarian position. P.K. Jewett agreed that the complementarian interpretation of the text was correct. As a result, Jewett denied the authority of the text in his defense of women’s ordination.

Different denominations have different working definitions of ordination. All it means is to be consecrated to an purpose or office. Scripture nowhere explicitly says women are not to be ordained. We have to talk about the particular office in question, and build an implicit argument regarding ordination in general.

He main principle was that the parameter are to be those set forth in Scripture, not culture or the “light of nature.”

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At this year’s General Assembly they decided to have a study committee on women in the church. This was met with mixed reviews. Some were glad. I was glad, but I will not impute the reason for my joy to others. I want to better understand the Scriptures, in particular one text of Scripture, and for our church life to be more fully conformed to those Scriptures. In other words, I believe that notion of Reformed and reforming.

Some were upset seeing this as a move toward liberalism. They believe they fully understand the Scriptures and haven’t imported any erroneous cultural notions into our understanding of the Scriptures.

I don’t see this as the on ramp to women elders. This is especially true when I look at the people on the study committee. We’re talking Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt for Pete’s sake.

Our Session decided we wanted to study this subject for ourselves so we can better evaluate any majority and minority reports. In fact, our men’s ministry has decided to look at this too. So I’ve done some shopping to add to the books I own and have read on this subject. One of the books I added was Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles by Kathy Keller. Kathy is also on this study committee and this was a book I wanted to read anyway.

In addition to being the wife of Tim Keller, Kathy has an MA in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell and spent some time as an editor for Great Commission Publications.

To call this a book is generous. It is more like a booklet, being 39 pages (plus a few pages of end notes). This increases the likelihood of it being read by my very busy elders. It also means that it won’t cover everything I might want it to cover or as in depth as I might want it covered.

Let’s lay the card on the table first. She is a complementarian. This is a broad term, and there are a few differences of opinion within this movement. Many want to claim their version as the only version. This, in fact, is one of the reasons for this book. She tries to nail down the essential point of complementarianism.

She divides the book into two chapters. The first focuses on hermeneutical issues and two key texts. The second focuses on how this plays out as she feels pressure from both egalitarians and more “conservative” complementarians (or those who may actually hold to a view of patriarchialism).

She begins by describing how she arrived at these conclusions (and to hold to the inspiration, infallibility and authority of the Scriptures) though she didn’t grow up believing them and they threatened her career ambitions. Hermeneutically she affirms that the analogy of Scripture (clear texts interpret unclear texts) and each text has a context (historical, cultural, social, and I might add theological) that affects its meaning. The two texts she focuses on are 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. In some ways she views the first as less clear and the second as more clear such that 1 Timothy helps us understand 1 Corinthians.

We cannot isolate 1 Corinthians 14 from the rest of 1 Corinthians. This means that we cannot use it to mean that women must be absolutely silent in a worship service. For instance, 1 Corinthians 11:5 mentions women praying and prophesying in the public worship service. While we might claim the prayer is silent, clearly the prophesying is not. As a result she notes “Paul in 1 Corinthians is not condemning the public ministry of women, but regulating it.” In other words, public exercise of spiritual gifts is to retain “divinely ordained gender roles.”

She does mention Miriam, Deborah and Huldah as women leaders. She, unfortunately, just mentions this in passing. Since these women are used by egalitarians like Sarah Sumner to justify their views, I think this bore more attention. Miriam, for instance, while publicly leading, was publicly leading women in the chorus of the song.

In its context, she understands (quite reasonably) this text to be about the elders evaluating and judging the content of prophecy in the worship service. They were discussing it and speaking authoritatively upon it. Women were not to be interjecting and disrupting this process which involved only the elders. This happened prior to the completion of the canon and the elders were to guard the deposit of truth they had (and were still receiving). We do this less formally now that the canon is complete by holding pastors to confessional standards. If I begin to preach deviant views, the elders are charged with admonishing me, and presbytery will be involved if I persist.

These view is supported by what we find in 1 Timothy 2. Debate has raged over whether “teach or have authority” (NIV), “teach or exercise authority” (ESV),  refers to two separate functions or one function (teaching in a position of authority). She, following James Hurley (who used to teach at RTS Jackson), Craig Blomberg and Philip Payne believes this is a hendiadys in which the conjunction connects the two verbs so they are mutually defining.

“So what is being forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2 (and by extension in 1 Corinthians 14) is authoritative teaching- some kind of teaching that carried with it an authority not found in other, allowable forms of oral discourse.”

In her understanding there are times when a teacher doesn’t have authority. You can disagree with a SS teacher or small group leader but it isn’t a problem. The problem is if we disagree with the elders on an important issue (it may be prompted by the disagreement with the SS teacher). The SS teacher can’t excommunicate you, but the Session can!

The main tenant of complementarianism is male headship in the church (and home). In the church it is male elders (there is disagreement on the question of deacons which means we have disagreements on the nature of a deacon or “ordination” behind the scenes).

Keller than briefly mentions the common reasons why people think we don’t have to obey these instructions by Paul: misogyny by Paul, only binding on the church then, and outdated commands. She notes how unconventional Paul was in his relationships with women and how the charge of misogyny really doesn’t have any legs. The second charge is based on a fallacy since every part of Scripture is written to a specific group at a specific time for a specific reason. We do distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive passages however. Scripture describes polygamous marriages, for instance, but never prescribes or affirms them. This second excuse also denies Paul’s instruction about Scripture in 2 Timothy 3. The third excuse essentially is that we have more light now. Another version of this would be the trajectory hermeneutic of some progressives like Rob Bell where we try to project what Paul might think & say today.

“Consider the enormous hubris in appointing our present cultural moment as the yardstick against which God’s Word must be measured.”

We should not give into the impulse to fall back onto “love” since the issue is so “complicated and confusing.” She reminds us that the great creeds and confessions of the church were the produces of (often) vigorous debate. It is better to dig deeper into the Scriptures and submit ourselves to what they say. This is not simply a personal project but a community project (regarding both time and space).

“I have found it fruitless, leading only to self-pity and anger in my own life, to question God’s disposition of things when I do not understand. Confidence in his goodness has been a better choice.”

The second section is really about trying to address those who disagree with her, both the women who are egalitarian and the men who are more patriarchical (my term) or those who have a more restrictive view of women in the church. She distinguishes between gifts and roles. We tend to conflate them. A woman can have a shepherding gift and she can exercise it, but not in the role of pastor. She brings up her now deceased professor Elizabeth Elliot in discussing this. We should want women to fully exercise their gifts even as we recognize that there is a role (or two?) they cannot fulfill. She puts forward a common formulation that a woman can do anything an unordained man do.

This is a SHORT book, as I mentioned. As a result there are a number of things I thought went unaddressed. I would have preferred some discussion about deacons. That was beyond her scope and is really not an egalitarian vs. complementarian question.

She does affirm the voluntary submission of the Son as Mediator in the economic Trinity. In the footnote in that paragraph she clearly denies Eternal Submission of the Son, which is proposed by some complementarians or at least seems to be. She rightly calls this, in my opinion, a heresy. Some people, like Wayne Grudem, keep doubling down on their ESS views (which are also found in the ESV Study Bible). Frame’s comments are quite tentative on this issue.

Anyway, this was a helpful booklet to read even though its scope was limited. Reading this I see no reason for my more “conservative” brothers (I am a conservative, by the way) to fear the PCA sliding into liberalism with Kathy’s inclusion on the study committee.

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The first part of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is focused on apologetics: showing how Christianity has better and more complete answers regarding pain and suffering than any other way of looking at the world. The 2nd part of the book is called Facing the Furnace. It is about how Christianity looks at suffering, preparing us to enter the furnace. What does our theology say about suffering? That is an important thing.

“The world is too fallen and deeply broken to divide into a neat pattern of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.”

He begins with the challenge to faith. Christianity does not look at suffering simplistically like Job’s counselors. There must be answers that satisfy the heart and not just the mind.

(more…)

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