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Posts Tagged ‘ESS’


Some of you thought this would never end. But all things, good and bad, come to an end this side of the eschaton. Then everything, good and bad, will be eternal.

This will cover the last chapter and some final thoughts concerning Aimee Byrd’s recent and controversial book Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. We are going to peel back the yellow wall paper one last time. The final chapter is called When Paul Passes Phoebe the Baton.

As you can likely tell from that title, Byrd returns to Phoebe and Paul’s commendation of her to the church in Rome. She draws on James Montgomery Boice to say that she likely had traveling companions since it was generally unsafe for women to travel alone in the ancient world. Paul is wanting to identify the courier of the epistle: Phoebe.

Interestingly she also notes that Paul may have taken quite some time to write the letter, perhaps having rough drafts, editing, dictation and so forth. She depends on E. Randolph Richards book Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. I was surprised that someone wrote a book on such a niche subject, but I shouldn’t be I suppose. This seems to overly stress the human authorship and minimize (at best) the divine authorship. I don’t generally conceive of the Holy Spirit needing Paul to edit and utilize rough drafts. But this is a rabbit trail since the Spirit is not super-intending this blog post.

Sacred Siblingship

Byrd gets this phraseology from Mixed Ministry: Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in an Oversexed Society. Her arguments are based on Reidar Aasgaard’s “My Beloved Brothers and Sisters!” Christian Siblingship in Paul (again thinking people write about the oddest things). It was a powerful social institution. Siblings of the opposite sex could talk to one another in public, and show some affection prohibited to lovers. Paul uses this to reveal the type of bond Christians should have, a very counter-cultural bond. She explores some of the reasons for this bond in families. Sibling obligations were distinctive and yet fluid. “Factors such as age, gender, skill, and birth order all contributed to authority and responsibility both in the household and public spheres.” She notes that sisters often mediated between fathers and sons. The longest relationship you’d have in life was the sibling relationship.

Some of those calls were painful

Family was important to Jesus, but not more important than the Father and those spiritually united to him. Jesus did provide for his mother at his death. As we think of Phoebe, Paul is saying “she’s one of us!” not just someone paid to carry a letter for me. Byrd again returns to her theory that Phoebe was astute and full of theological vigor, capable of answering any questions like the old Ligonier phone room.

She makes much of the fact that a woman could carry the letter to Rome, and the theory she was there to answer questions too (meaning instructing them in what Paul means). In like fashion, Byrd introduces us to Basil and Gregory of Nyssa’s older sister Macrina. Belonging to a convent she was apparently theologically astute and Gregory indicates that she was influential in his life and theology.

“We see from Gregory’s writings that ‘women’s theologizing is fundamental to the development of Christian thought and should not be relegated to the fringe or regarded as a concession prize at best.”

Sisters can communicate God’s Word. This sister by blood and spirit taught her younger brothers, not only as children but as adults. They didn’t silence her as a mere woman. They valued her as a person and her input or ideas.

Then Byrd engages in “historical imagination” with Richard Bauckham regarding Junia also mentioned in Romans 16. I call it speculative, and the difference may or may not be more than semantic. There are translation/interpretative differences: she is either well known as an apostle (lower case, not the office) or well known by the Apostles. Chrysostom seems to indicate in his homily on this text that she was “worthy of the appellation of apostle!” She would be part of a church planting team sent out (hence apostles). PC(USA) author Kenneth Bailey seems to view her as an Apostle, at least of sorts, arguing she was witness to Jesus’ ministry (he seems to be reading our technical use back into the text). Bauckman gets more speculative in arguing that Junia is the Greek name for the Jewess Joanna who was married to Herod’s steward. As part of Herod’s court, she and her husband likely had connections in Rome, and perhaps were missionaries to Rome later.

I don’t want to get too detailed in this. The gist is that women were engaged in the church planting project. What role they played is uncertain. What is certain to me is that Byrd is confusing “apostles” with “Apostles”. She thinks that this speculation poses a problem for complementarian churches. I don’t think it does for me as a complementarian-in-search-of-a-new-name. As laypeople, some were sent to plant churches in accordance with the gospel of the Apostles (given to them by Jesus, obviously). The word in Greek is not used exclusively for the office. We must look at how it is used to see its meaning in a particular case. So, this doesn’t mean that women had authority and office. We do see that they provided resources and engaged in evangelism as well as discipleship. At times we clearly see women like Prisca alongside her husband working to disciple men. We do see women commissioned and sent onto the mission field, and this is a good thing.

Peel and Reveal

She’s calling us to evaluate our views and the practices of our congregations. She uses clutter blindness as an illustration. We become blind to the clutter around us (like in my office) after time passes. I discussed this with someone today: broken or misplaced items become normalized after about 30 days. So fix or put those things away in timely fashion.

We really can’t see the yellow wallpaper because we are so used to it. Evaluate the practices to be sure you aren’t just falling into a cultural trap (either egalitarian or patriarchical). This isn’t limited to issues of gender. There are many things that are cultural that can be mistaken for biblical mandate. We can be blind to the racial insensitivity or worse in our churches because it has been there for so long. She quotes Upton Sinclair as saying, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”.

Byrd notes there about 60 “one another” passages in the Scripture which include aspects of discipleship. These passages are second plural, and are not gendered. The people who fulfill them are gendered. And so we minister as a man or woman to a brother or sister, father or mother, or son or daughter.

“Siblingship is the very framework that will help us to uphold distinction without reduction. We have unique responsibilities and contributions to our sexes because women will never be brothers and men will never be sisters.”

She reminds us of the difference between tradition and traditionalism. She’s not wanting to get rid of tradition but traditionalism (I’m taking her at her word).

Summary Thoughts:

  • Haley Carruthers crossing the finish line in London (Business Insider)

    While she affirms male headship in the church (only male elders) she more assumes it than proves it. She refers to Genesis 2 in a footnote. There is no mention of Titus 1 or 1 Timothy 2-3.

  • At times she heavily depends on one source for pages at a time. Many of those oft repeated sources are egalitarian scholars. It can sound like idiosyncratic viewpoints that she has picked up rather commonly held and understood.
  • She brings up lots of material and concerns from other books of hers. The main new contribution is issues concerning the CBMW in terms of how they reduce masculinity and femininity to authority based on ESS. This is based on a Biblicist approach to understanding Scripture.
  • She also attacks their problematic process of trying to discern what women can and cannot do in a local church. I wish she was more clear about some of the practices that she thinks are cultural additions (traditionalism) but she seems to want us to think it through.
  • In terms of Jonathan Haidt’s social intuition theory, she doesn’t seem to address the elephant as much as the rider.
  • At times she is selective. For instance, she reminds us that Miriam led others in song after the parting of the Red Sea in judgment-salvation. Byrd does not mention that she led the women, and in the chorus that Moses had already been singing. As a result it sounds like overstating the case through the selectivity. I said this in less than a paragraph, so it doesn’t take long. She also left out that Miriam was struck with leprosy when she and Aaron complained about Moses marrying the Cushite woman.

This is a good book that brings up a variety of good points. At times it seems like she’s trying to do too much and so the reasoning isn’t as clear as I’d like.

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Aimee Byrd’s 6th chapter, The Great Divorce That You Didn’t See Coming, addresses the problem of parachurch ministries and the discipleship being farmed out to them. This should not be be taken to mean that she is against parachurch ministries, but that she is advocating for the centrality of the church and its mission.

Parachurch ministries are intended to work alongside (para) and supplement the church, not to replace or supplant the church. When churches fail to do their job, people often turn to parachurch ministries to fill the gaps. As someone who used to work in a parachurch ministry, I understand this and lament that so many churches aren’t engaging and serving their people well. In our consumeristic age, many affiliate with parachurch ministries that are more visible and dynamic than the local church. A study a few years ago explained this in terms of people who were parts of parachurch ministries in high school and college still wanting similar ministry instead of the style employed by local congregations.

Byrd discusses a conversation with a friend who attends a local congregation but doesn’t think she needs it in light of the availability of her favorite celebrity pastor’s sermons. This problem has grown with the advent of the live streaming era thanks to Covid-19. It is great that those sermons are available to edify us and others but many rely on them or put a higher priority on them than their local pastor. In other words there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian life. This indicates a breakdown in discipleship.

Others women she knows talk about discipling people who don’t go to their church. I understand if there is a pre-existing relationship but generally agree with Byrd’s concerns.

She is building on the previous chapter and points to the disconnect among many church members. She notes we should be friends, but not lovers, with the parachurch ministry (an odd metaphor). Many come to faith through parachurch ministries. Some have turned to them to be discipled. There is plenty of bad ecclesiology in our midst. Byrd notes that she knows leaders in parachurch ministries who are not members of a local church.

“But the popular mind-set is that while church is still recognized as important, the real ministry is taking place outside the church.”

Why Discipleship Is Leaving the Church

Byrd shifts to the reasons for this shift. She mentions the couple that splits when everyone thinks the marriage was strong. The couple has put on a happy face, but behind closed doors they have drifted apart or become combative. In congregations, people can feel forgotten and neglected so they begin to look for fellowship and opportunities to grow elsewhere. Others feel unneeded by their congregations, and want a way to serve but can’t find one. Some of these people change churches, but others stay and look to a parachurch ministry to meet this need.

So, these are two groups. There are those who seek from parachurch ministries the investment and growth that should be given from the local church. There are those who develop their own ministries to others disconnected from the local church.

We do need to be careful. Some parachurch ministries exist to help people serve in the local church. They really view themselves as coming alongside, being partners with the local church. Some, sadly, are people who have been hurt by the local church and don’t see themselves as partners so much as substitutes.

She mentions IF-Gatherings ministries which says “Discipleship is what we’re about.” This ministry has reached over a million women. Thousands of women attend their conferences. In some cases they take the place of discipleship in the local church, and for other people they supplement and assist local church ministry. The problem isn’t the ministry but how people utilize them.

“Church leaders, laypeople, and parachurch ministries need to stop and ask what our responsibilities are and how God’s people are discipled.”

Byrd thinks there needs to be an RDT or DTR (depending where you are from): a talk to define the relationship. This is not simply to chastise parachurch ministries, but also to prompt church officers to be more engaged. We need to engage the Word together and make sure people are providing and looking for discipleship in all the right places.

The Problem of Biblicism

She brings up the Biblicist method of teaching Scripture. I’m not sure how true that is, but in the case of CBMW many of the leaders do use such a method. I’m surprised this didn’t come up earlier, particularly when she was addressing ESS. As I noted in an earlier post, Matthew Emerson provides a fairly lengthy critique of Grudem’s Biblicist method of interpretation that leads him to some faulty conclusions (He Decended to the Dead, pp. 5-17, 67-74). ESS would be one of them, as well as denying that Jesus descended to the dead. But Byrd does address this here because Piper and Grudem are not the only ones who use this kind of method to interpret the Bible.

“Biblicists rightly uphold the authority of Scripture but often read the Bible with a narrow, flat lense of interpretation, zooming in on the words in the texts themselves while missing the history, context, and confessing tradition of the faith. Biblicists emphasize proof texting over a comprehensive biblical theology. What often happens unintentionally is that the Biblicist readers become their own authority, since they often don’t notice they are also looking through their own lens of preconceived theological assumptions.”

Sorry for the lengthy quote there, but Byrd briefly discusses what is wrong with such a method (ignoring historical context, theological context as well as the interpretive history) and the end result of becoming one’s own authority. Your interpretation becomes THE interpretation with no one to correct you. We see this, in my opinion, with Piper’s permanent marriage view, as well as ESS. Byrd brings it back to ESS as well. “Biblicists employ a fundamentalist approach to God’s Word that doesn’t take into account how the church and the Scriptures go hand in hand.” She warns that “Biblicist doesn’t mean biblical.”

Many parachurch ministries are vulnerable to this precisely because they don’t have confessions of faith, or if they do it is minimal and lowest common denominator in nature. It becomes an interpretive community of 1 or 20, rather than the whole church through time.

Byrd is concerned that they mimic the church despite not having the same ecclesiastical offices. They have a board, typically following a business model. Yet they have “worship services” in their conferences. They sing songs, but there is generally no call to worship, confession of sin or faith, no sacraments etc. Some don’t allow women to speak even though they aren’t the church. As a result there are exclusively women’s parachurch ministries where gifted women get to contribute.

The Covenantal Context of Discipleship

Byrd advocates for the covenantal context of discipleship. The visible church is a covenant community. We’ve made promises to teach all as Christ commanded.

This is what makes some of the criticism she’s received from Reformed leaders confusing. She affirms qualified male elders in the church. She wants women to be discipled too. And she sees this in a covenantal context. This is all good, man. It seems an area of disagreement is maximized and the many areas of agreement are minimized.

She continues to bring out the Swain and Vanhoozer as she affirms that reading, and interpretation, is a communal exercise. I don’t just read the Bible with Jesus. We see the extremes here. Some think they don’t need to learn how to interpret the Bible, just pray. Others think it is so hard they won’t even try. Often the quiet time becomes a strange mystical experience utterly divorced from confessional boundaries, teachers of the present and past, as well as biblical theology. She advocates for more dogmatics, or systematic theology, to be taught to women. This is a common theme in her books.

Peel and Reveal

Rather than affirm historic confessions (like say, Ligonier did), many ministries form their own statements of faith. The CBMW did this with the Danvers Statement (which includes ESS). These statements, she argues, often further their own agenda and existence. This is true when you look at the introduction to the Danvers Statement.

“Parachurch often reinforces bad gender tropes, outfitting and amplifying many of the divisions between men and women in the church.”

In this context she returns to the use of “roles” by the CBMW. Yes, it should not be applied to “an ontological creational norm that women are subordinate to men.” As I noted, I don’t agree with her isolation of one meaning of the word, but I agree with Byrd that they fill their books, conferences, Bible studies and resources with erroneous stereotypes of men and women.

The problem didn’t stay limited to the CBMW. She notes that Southern Seminary has adopted the Danvers Statement to which employees must subscribe. Sadly, contrary to my vote, the PCA also adopted the Nashville Statement as if our own confessional material was insufficient. Yes, it does include the new terminology of recent days, but I think it clearly lacks the precision of the Westminster Standards. It affirms but does not define gender differences in Article 4. However, this is still written while affirming ESS as the basis for subordination.

“I belong to a church that already subscribes to historically faithful orthodox confessions. I am thankful that I don’t need to worry over signing additional statements with questionable theology.”

From here Byrd shifts to revealing who is exhorted to church. She brings up a number of “one another” texts that encourage Christians (not separated by sex) to exhort and teach one another. She notes “Laywomen in the Scriptures are not addressed as subordinate to laymen.” This is the view that riles up some people who embrace the CBMW view of men and women in terms of authority and submission rooted in ontology. These many verses she lists do not have qualifiers to limit the teaching of women. She then claims “It would be disobedient to Scripture to withhold women from teaching.” She certainly points out a theological oddity, not to be confused with a geographical oddity. As we apply the analogy of Scripture (WCF, I)the clear passages interpret the unclear, not the other way around. She will get to 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 in the next chapter. Even if you want to say a woman should be silent in the church, the context is the corporate worship service. That would not prohibit a woman from acting like any other lay person in a Bible study or Sunday School class.

She then shifts her attention back to parachurch ministries in general.

“We should not confuse the authority given to church officers with the authority of board members. We should not confuse the worship service, where God promises to bless us in Christ, with the classroom or the conference stage.”

She reminds us it is “helpful to distinguish between primary doctrinal issues, secondary issues, and even third-order issues of differences.” Oddly she footnotes an Al Mohler, of the aforementioned Southern Seminary, article from 2005 called “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity”. There is also a book by Gavin Ortlund called Finding the Right Hill to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage on this subject. She doesn’t say it, but most of what we discuss as differences between men and women would fall under third-order issues since they are not covered in ecumenical confessions of faith. As a result, we should allow one another latitude on that which is not clearly defined in Scripture (like the office of elder is). Parachurch ministries shouldn’t be organized around such third-order issues. It seems like straining at the gnat.

Parachurch ministries can come alongside the local church to help it fulfill its mission, rather than seek to fulfill that mission for it. What is drawing her ire is the later.

This chapter does advance her overall argument. It does point out some of the serious issues people should have with the CBMW, and some other parachurch ministries. Not everyone will agree with her statements. The question is, are those differences biblical or cultural? Are we sure?

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I want to start with a story or two. Two.

Saturday a friend of mine died. Years ago he attended a PCA church in Orlando where a friend of mine was a pastor on staff. This friend raised concerns to me about this PCA pastor based on some lectures he gave on women in the church. At the time I didn’t share his concerns about my other friend. I didn’t think he was moving toward egalitarianism. A few years later this pastor friend moved cross country to serve on the staff of a church that would eventually leave the PCA and fully embrace egalitarianism. My friend did “slide” into egalitarianism, but may have hid it since he credited one of our professors. My late friend was right, and I missed it.

In my first pastorate one of the influential women gave me a book to read. She was on the search committee that called me. She had been auditing courses at RTS Orlando. She led our women’s ministry. The book was Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church, which is clearly egalitarian. Earlier she’d given me insightful articles from Kenneth Bailey. This book was less than insightful contrary to the positive blurbs by respected men, but it was insightful into this friend’s trajectory. It broke my heart when she and her husband left the church and began to attend a PC(USA) church (now ECO).

Sometimes you can see it coming, and sometimes it is more subtle. Some people claim they see Aimee Byrd well on the road to egalitarian. I’m not so sure. My foresight, obviously, is not perfect including in this area. But the issue may be their adherence to the CBMW formulation of complementarianism.

Cognitive Dissonance

Today we’ll look at the beginning of the Part 2: Recovering Our Mission. The first chapter in this section is Why Our Aim Is Not Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She begins this with part of her story. She was married a month after graduating from college and began to read books to help her become “the perfect Christian wife.” This was when she read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood aka the Big Blue Book. She was seeking a “biblical understanding of the sexes.” There were parts that were hard for her to accept, but she trusted the radio shows that spoke well of the book. “That’s what I wanted to be: good and conservative.” She was not comfortable with “some” of the teachings in the book. Not all. Not most. Some. She assumed she’d understand them better as she matured.

“I do want to note that there are plenty of helpful teachings in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, written by authors who have benefited the church in numerous ways.”

Over time, however, “more and more strange teachings on femininity and masculinity have emerged under the rubric of biblical manhood and womanhood.” She is not alone in thinking this. She mentions some of them earlier in this book, and they concerned me when I read them years ago. I thought they were aberrations but now realize my understanding of complementarianism is not on the same side of the spectrum as theirs. I was concerned when Piper thought women shouldn’t be police officers because that involves authority over men (“Should Women Be Police Officers?” August 13, 2015). In that article he mentioned teaching in colleges as well. Byrd also notes a place where Piper discusses a woman being careful in giving a lost man directions lest we undermine his sense of masculinity. Sorry, I don’t get it. I simply want to get to my destination, and apart from verbal abuse I’m not guarding my sense of masculinity.

Eternal Submission of the Son

Where she goes here is more fundamental, however. She came across a CBMW document expressing ESS (Eternal Submission of the Son). This view states that in the ontological Trinity, the Son submits to the Father. This view is not expressed in any of the major creeds and confessions. We do recognize that in the economic Trinity, the Son as Messiah submits to the Father on our behalf. The first speaks to the Son in his essence, the second to the Son in his office as Redeemer.

She pursued conversations with representatives of CBMW including the president at the time. In books, members of the CBMW continued to assert this view. It shows up in the ESV Study Bible as well. This view is used as the basis for their version of complementarianism: men and women are both human (equal in essence) but women submit to men (different in role/function).

I don’t believe in ESS nor agree with its use by CBMW to defend an erroneous view of men and women. In Ephesians 5, wives submit to their own husbands, not men in general. Women are not inferior to men due to their gender, not to submit to men in general. In the 10 commandments, we are to honor our parents meaning that sons (even as adults) are to honor their mothers. Mothers don’t submit to adult sons.

Back to Byrd’s book from that aside. She tried to address this publicly as well. As she tells it no one was listening. Then Liam Goligher did a guest post on her blog on this subject and the can of worms was opened. ESS became a big internet controversy.

Okay. At this point I wondered if she wants credit for exposing this heterodoxy, simply wants to say no one took her seriously or both. Goligher was more than a “housewife theologian” and had more gravitas. That he was a man can also play into it. But there seem to be some sour grapes at work in this too.

She then brings it back to the Big, Blue Book. Once again she notes there is good material in there, but also some disconcerting material as well. There is a big problem when the differences between men and women are reduced to “one of ontological authority and submission.” I’ve always understood this as patriarchy, not complementarianism. While she mentions Denny Burke, Owen Strachan and others, her focus is on Wayne Grudem who has been a big advocate for this deviant view of the Trinity, including in his work on the ESV Study Bible notes. I was disappointed to see Ligon Duncan so earnestly affirming the updated version of the Big, Blue Book such that communicating the doctrines and applications taught in it were essential to Christian discipleship.

“While I wholeheartedly affirm distinction between sexes, I am convinced that our choices are not between CBMW complementarianism and vague androgynous discipleship.”

She is raising serious issues here. In my opinion she is right. I’ll let her speak for herself:

“Nowhere does Scripture state that all women submit to all men. … And it is difficult for a laywoman like me, who does see some theological teaching for God outfitting qualified men for an office to see this kind of reductive teaching and call it complementarianism. … My femininity is not defined by how I look for and nurture male leadership in my neighbors, coworkers, or mail carriers. I am not denying the order needed in both my personal household and in the household of God, but I do not reduce the rights and obligations in a household to mere authority and submission roles. … I uphold distinction between the sexes without reduction, as Scripture does.”

She affirms that church office is reserved for qualified men. She refers to Genesis 2 in the footnote, but overlooks 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. That is puzzling, frankly.

In the next section she’s wondering if we’ve baptized “chivalry” and made it biblical manhood. I think she is onto something with this. Like the Pharisees added to the laws regarding the Sabbath and used the corban principle to avoid caring for parents, we can add cultural understandings to our biblical understanding in a way that is inappropriate and confusing. She quotes Sarah Coakley as noting that the point of headship “is not executive dictatorship but responsibility for the “well-being of the whole.”” She uses John McKinley’s “necessary ally”, though I prefer Allender and Longman’s “intimate ally”.

To be fair, in What’s the Difference?, Piper’s contribution to the Big, Blue Book, he mentions men listening to their wives to gain input. The “definition” expresses “benevolent responsibility”. But we do need to emphasize, I think, the partnership of marriage. Headship in Ephesians 5 is sacrificial and for the well-being of the wife. Back to Genesis 2, she is an ally in our God-given mission. Being a man or woman can not be reduced to authority/submission. There is a bit of overlap in their expression of this relationship, but their foundation is quite different.

Restoring the Imago Dei

I think she takes too much time expressing the fact that our goal in discipleship is not masculinity or femininity but conformance to Christ (Romans 8). At a few points that will be different. But the goal is being a mature human being, restoration of the image of God (Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3).

“Christian men and women don’t strive for so-called biblical masculinity or femininity, but Christlikeness. Rather than striving to prove our sexuality, the tone of our sexuality will express itself as we do this. … I do not need to do something in a certain way to be feminine. I simply am feminine because I am female.”

She sees some benefit to exclusive studies for men and women. There are “shared experiences and responsibilities within our sex.” (She probably should use “gender” in these instances.) Her concern is that we take this too far too often, as though we can only be discipled separately. Drawing on Phillip Payne’s material she asserts (rightly) that both men and women received authority over earth and creatures. Unlike in the pagan cultures around them, men were supposed to leave their family of origin to cleave to his spouse. In pagan countries she shifted from her family to his.

In Mark David Walton’s article for the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood these gender distinctions (authority & submission) remain for all eternity since they are ontological. Women, in this view, would eternally submit to men even though both are made in the image of God.

Peel and Reveal

She goes off her on “role”. She does this, in my opinion, in a reductionistic way. She focuses on the definition derived from the playhouse. As a result she wants us to stop using this in discussing men and women. She’ll also do this in chapter 6. But according to dictionary.com the 2nd definition is “proper or customary function” and the third is the sociological use (pertinent here!) “the rights, obligations, and expected behavior patterns associated with a particular social status.” That status should not be “woman” but “wife”. Not “man” but “husband” and “church officer”.

She seems to be going after both ESS and expressions of complementarianism at the same time. She does not clearly delineate between the two but goes back and forth between them. They are related, but distinct. This is a weakness of hers or at least this chapter.

And then she returns to norms. “I agree with Mark Cortez that we can still affirm some cultural norms associated with gender without holding that these must be essential to our sexuality.” But in this section she seeks to get metaphysical and philosophical. She depends on Sister Prudence Allen in pp. 124-30, and frankly I’m lost. Philosophy is not my strong point, and I’m not familiar with this philosopher. I got “fractional complementarity” and “integral complementarity”. She brings in Pope John Paul II, as well as Paul Zanacanaro and Julian Marias. In all this I couldn’t tell if she was using them positively (she does say they think more thoroughly and biblically) or negatively (since their conclusion sounds remarkably like Piper and Grudem). Just call me Vinnie because “I’m soooo confused.”

The peel and reveal section seems to waste the good and important material she covered in the body of the chapter. There are serious problems in the theological basis for the CBMW version of complementarianism, and therefore serious problems in how they understand masculinity and femininity in relationship to one another. She could have done a better job delineating her points of agreement with CBMW since there are some.

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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.

Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles in Ministry (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry)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 patriarchy).

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¬† the analogy of Scripture (clear texts interpret unclear texts) and that 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.

This 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 then 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 products 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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