Flotsam and jetsam (7/10)

Just a couple of quick links today:

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on July 10, 2010, in Misc and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. As regards Kirk’s post I think one very helpful book on this subject is William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals if we are going to discuss the direction the NT trajectory aims. By the way, quick note, Webb argues that the NT is more in favor of giving freedom to women and slaves that the culture of the day so in a culture that does not believe in slavery and does affirm women’s rights we should not reverse the NT trajectory but affirm it going further. Meanwhile, Greco-Roman culture was OK with homosexuality yet the NT writers are always against it. Therefore the trajectory never went with culture on this one seeing it as a moral issue. I have oversimplified but I think that this subject is addressed very well in that book.

    • Yes, Webb does argue that his trajectory hermeneutic would not apply to homosexuality because there’s no “trajectory” involved. My objection to Webb’s book is his whole methodology. First, I’m not convinced that there is a definable “methodology” for biblical ethics. I tend to think that living a biblically faithful life is messy, challenging, and often situational. Second, I’m not real happy with the conclusion that our ethic is a superior expression of biblical morality. I’d prefer to argue that the NT church was trying to live faithfully to God’s call in their cultural context, and we’re tyring to do the same. Our expression of biblical faithfulness may look a little different (e.g. slavery), but that doesn’t necessarily make ours better or further along on the trajectory.

  2. Sure, he has some loose ends but I tend to focus on it more in terms of mission than moral progress. If we were living our faith in the Middle East the idea of a woman pastor would be absurd though I do think like the NT writers we would seek to enhance the lives of those women in that culture. So it is not so much about being “better” as seeing that the NT writers were not so much against say women leaders because they are women but rather because in various situations it inhibited the mission rather than enhanced it.

    Here in the US we are often in danger of inhibiting the mission when we limit women or (God forbid) argue that someone slavery is ok. Though I guess in certain micro-cultures in the US a woman pastor may not be a good idea.

    • It’s been a while since I’ve read Webb, but I think the argument that you’re describing actually fits better with what John Stackhouse argues in Finally Feminist. Webb’s trajectory argument would seem to suggest that we should argue for egalitarianism today. In other words, if the trajectory of biblical morality is in fact pressing in this direction, then we have a moral obligation to continue pushing in that same direction. Once we’ve understood the trajectory, I don’t see how there’s room to say that in another cultural context (e.g. the middle east) we can allow an immoral practice to continue. Stackhouse approaches it from a very different angle and argues that it’s not so much about trajectories, but it’s really about advancing the Gospel.

      I also don’t see how “trajectory” language can suggest anything other than that our morality is superior to that of the biblical authors. The very language of being “higher up” or “further along” necessarily pushes toward some concept of superiority. Granted, Webb doesn’t see this as a failing of the biblical authors – they went as far as they could given their cultural constraints – but it still makes my moral system better than Paul’s (at least with respect to slavery), doesn’t it?

  3. I haven’t read Stackhouse’s book so he may say things in a way with which I would resonate a bit more. I found Webster helpful but I wouldn’t say he was inerrant. 🙂 In other words, no, I do not see egalitarianism as a morally superior position. Rather, it is more like a basic assumption about men and women that is a secondary issue to mission. So if it does not harm the spread of the gospel for a woman to be in particular areas of leadership (or if it hinders it by preventing a woman from doing so) then we ought to allow it. If it would hinder the spread of the gospel it is a secondary outworking of the gospel and it is not a primary issue. Therefore, in the Middle East, if I was choosing pastors I would never choose a woman. I would hope that someday the Christian witness would lead that region to see women in a more respectful manner which would lead to eventually promoting women in the church though.

  4. So, the argument runs like this: “We really should be egalitarians. But if promoting egalitarianism undermines the spread of the Gospel, then we should not promote egalitarianism.” Is that correct?

    If so, what prevents the application of the argument in other areas. For example: “We really should oppose homosexuality. But, if opposing homosexuality undermines the spread of the Gospel, then we should not oppose homosexuality?”

    It wouldn’t take to much creativity to create similar arguments for a whole variety of moral issues.

  5. “I would hope that someday the Christian witness would lead that region to see women in a more respectful manner which would lead to eventually promoting women in the church though.”

    Why is it a failure of “respect” to install female pastors and bishops? If it is the wrong thing to do Scripturally, it actually dishonors them – and God. And what does it mean to “promote” women in the church. Women can exercise their gifts without having to be ordained, right? It is a weakness of discipleship to have to validate someone’s gospel usefulness by ordination. Especially if it is a “promotion.”

    Daniel’s argument is not convincing because he writes as if: a) he isn’t doing systematic theology himself. He simply dismisses views he differs with as systematic while he is “Biblical” – gosh that get old, and he knows better; b) his analogy of forests and birds somehow privileges his position – no one is arguing against applying Scripture to contemporary situations (isn’t that doing ST, btw?). We might end up saying “women cannot be pastors,” though Paul does not explicitly say that. And in terms of a conclusion reached from Scripture, that is the branch where the birds have landed for several thousand years in the church, as it turns out.:-).

  6. Why is it a failure of “respect” to NOT install female pastors and bishops?

  7. Pat, I’m hoping that Brian will log back in and respond to the first part of your comment.

    I can appreciate part of Kirk’s argument. He’s obviously tryingn to push back on a simplistic use of biblical morality (i.e. Paul said to do X, so we should do X). He wants us to appreciate the complexities involved in seeing the biblical authors as trying to live the “story” faithfully in their context, and then learning from that to do the same in our own. To that extent, I like what he’s doing.

    But, I would agree that there’s a strong tendency in this approach to privilege our own cultural context and draw conclusions that are very different from those the church has drawn throughout its history. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that our conclusions are wrong, but I would like to see a little more chastened humility and willingness to learn from those who have gone before.

  8. Marc,

    I don’t read Paul making the same arguments he makes against women doing this or that in public worship that he does against homosexuality. In Rom. 1.18-32 he presents homosexuality as one of the primer pictures of idolatry. In 1 Cor. 6.9 he places it in his long list of sins. I may be missing another passage, but the point stands that he sees this behavior as inherently immoral.

    In 1 Cor. 11.1-16 he allows women to pray and prophecy in public worship as long as the traditional head covering is worn to show honor to the males. Again, let me say here as I have elsewhere–egalitarians do not all see men and women as loosing distinctive traits. We see women as being able to hold all offices in the church. This does not mean that women should not honor the males in the church but as we see in Paul’s writing elsewhere he expects a sort of mutual submission.

    The 1 Cor. 14.33b-35 statement is confusing since I agree with G. Fee that it totally disrupts Paul’s addressing of prophecy in the congregation. While the one major hurdle to Fee’s argument that this is not authentic is the lack of textual evidence it does seem very, very confusing in in chapter fourteen and when we consider what was just said in chapter eleven. I am prone to agree with Fee that it was not original on those grounds.

    In 1 Tim 2.11-14 I am convinced that the issue is not so much gender as ignorance. As Adam received the commandments first and according to the Genesis narrative he did not relay those commandment correctly so Eve was ignorant and easily deceived. Likewise, this situation calls for the women to silently learn from the men without usurping any authority that has not been given to them and for which they have not been trained. We know elsewhere from Paul that sin entered through Adam the one who willingly sinned. It was not Eve’s gender that Paul critiqued but her ignorance which was being replayed by the women of the church to which Timothy had been given oversight.

    I think I am missing one additional passage as well so if anyone can remind me which one I will address it as well. My assumption is that anyone who is reading this who has already found these arguments unconvincing will continue to do so. Likewise, I found opposite readings that prohibit women as a general rule to be unconvincing so I don’t expect anyone to change my views. What I wanted to do here is show that the women in ministry and the homosexual issues are very different.

    • I have to say that I find Fee’s textual argument on 1 Cor 14 totally unconvincing. He does a great job pointing out that this fits very awkwardly in its context, but that argues at least as strongly for seeing it as the original reading. Who in their right mind would insert it here? So, without textual evidence and without a convincing explanation for why this passage would be inserted, it sure sounds like pleading “textual variant” to dismiss a passage we don’t like. (Full disclosure: I actually do this all the time. I find it to be a very convenient way to dismiss passages that don’t fit neatly into my theological system.)

      • We all do. I think the biggest problem I have is that it seems to directly contradict his words in chapter eleven. I am not sure how Paul could flip flop so quickly.

      • That’s my point exactly. This is (by far) the harder reading of the text, which normally serves as the starting point for textual criticism. Lacking a compelling explanation for its insertion and very early acceptance, I have to conclude that it’s original. That leaves me with a challenging interpretive task, but so be it.

  9. Pat,

    I did not argue that it does not respect a women to not install her as pastor. Actually, I said in that context I wouldn’t do it either. I was saying that in general the Middle Eastern culture disrespects women and the first purpose of the church would not be to shock the culture by making some sort of “feminist” decision in ordaining a woman for the sake of doing so. Rather, the goal of the gospel would be to raise respect for women in general (which ordination could actually hinder in that situation). But my train of thought did suggest that this the discussion of women in ministry would not even be possible in that context b/c of the disrespect of women.

    Again, I am not equating ordination with respect of women or visa-versa. I am saying that in a culture where women are disrespected any attempt to be “egalitarian” in a feminist, revolutionary, we-will-change-this-culture-by-force way would be a very bad idea.

  10. BL,

    I misunderstood the gist of what you were saying, re: “promotion.” Thanks for the follow-up.

    I think the similarities between women in ministry and homosexual issues are not so much in the prohibitions that Paul makes (though Paul goes back to creation to root his positions in each) but in the arguments for “full inclusion” that each position makes. Both give a kind of “gospel trajectory” argument, e.g. the gospel is about the broadening of who is in covenant and how they function, in Christ the ripple effect of the gospel is more, and more, grace to the marginalized and we must continue to follow the Spirit’s surprising work of inclusion, so women are ordained and gays are full members, etc. Gene Rogers, who has probably forgotten more theology than most of us have learned, makes this kind of argument from Romans in making his case for the full inclusion of gays in the Church.

    Full confession: my pastoral life would be MUCH easier if I were egalitarian, and so I’d love to be settled on that conviction. I honestly look for reasons to arrive there (and in the ecclesiology where I minister, advocate for the ordination of women as deacons). But at the end of the day I Tim 2, as well as the example of Jesus & the Apostles (who were not slavishly conforming to cultural expectations in teaching and practice) keeps me anchored on the complementarian view.

  11. Pat,

    I can see why people would maintain the complementarian position. It is not like I find it illogical. It makes plenty of sense and I respect you for sticking with the reading you find best explains the text.

    I can see the dangers of how these same arguments can be used to promote homosexuality in the church. I have heard them and I have had to wrestle and debate with those who used them. I guess I see enough differences between Paul’s approach of one subject to the other to find ways to prevent it from all being lumped together.

    • The question that I have (and that I raised in an earlier comment) isn’t actually about your support of egalitarianism. It was actually more about the shape of your argument. If you’re going to say that it is morally preferable to be egalitarian, but that it’s also okay to suppress a moral good for the sake of the Gospel (e.g., Paul), then it would also seem possible to argue that in another context it’s justifiable to suppress a different moral good for the sake of the Gospel (e.g., homosexuality). It seems to me, then, that your task is to demonstrate that the logic of argument applies to the first situation, but not the second. So, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the fact that Paul wrote more positively of the one and not the other. The question is whether one could use your argument to contend that other moral goods are “secondary” to the Gospel.

  12. While I am not sure women having particular roles should be considered a “moral” good it does seem that certain moral goods should be secondary to the gospel. My argument in favor of women being allowed to have roles in ministry that Paul sometimes disallowed (and other times may have allowed, cf. Junia in Rom. 16.7) is not a moral issue in my eyes. It is a basic reality that men and women are equal but in some cultures their roles function differently. In a culture where women can be leaders in the family or government I don’t see reason for why they should be prohibited from doing so in the church. In many cultures today (and in Paul’s day) it would have been disruptive so Paul seeing it as a secondary issue sides with the culture.

    As regards something that is moral Paul never calls for slaves to revolt but to work as unto Christ. Nor does he command masters to free slaves, but rather to remember there is a master in heaven. I think as regards slavery Paul shows where he would like the whole thing to go in his epistle to Philemon, but even there he does not see the gospel as demanding him to demand anything from Philemon.

    I guess someone could say that if Paul didn’t come out with both guns firing against slavery for the sake of the gospel then the same may be said of homosexuality but I don’t think I am the only one who would have to figure out how to answer this since I am pretty sure most readers of this blog would say that slavery is a moral issue that Paul didn’t feel as obligated to combat as many of us think he should have been.

    • Thanks for all your comments on this, Brian. I’ve been pressing on this one a little because I find some things attractive about the “secondary moral goods” argument, but I haven’t yet found any good principles for determining how or when it can be legitimately applied. So, presumably we’d all agree that child abuse should never be condoned for the sake of advancing the Gospel. But, other than our visceral reactions, what actually guides our thinking on this? How do we know that it’s okay to make this argument with respect to slavery but not child abuse? That’s what I’ve been looking for from people using this argument (like Stackhouse), but I haven’t seen it yet.

  13. Marc,

    I was thinking about these thing this morning and I just couldn’t seem to come up with a good coherent model. I have been trying to think about the categories within which Paul may have worked but I am not sure if that has proven helpful yet. If I have an “ah ha” moment I will let you know!

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