Blog Archives

Women in the Roman World

It always makes me nervous to post videos I haven’t had a chance to watch yet, but when they look like interesting resources, I’m willing to take the chance. And, these certainly fit that bill. Thanks to Brian LePort for pointing out these videos of Linda Cohick, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, discussing women in the ancient Roman world. Her book Women in the World of the Earliest Christians has gotten some really good reviews. So, I can only assume that the videos will be interesting as well.

Here’s the first one. You can view the other two at the Center for Public Christianity.

Perspectives on Women in Ministry 3 (NT Wright’s Turn)

Out of Ur has posted the third installment in their series of videos offering different perspectives on women in ministry. In this video, N.T. Wright explains how he reads 1 Timothy 2 in light of other biblical texts.

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Perspectives on women in ministry

Like it or not, the role of women in ministry continues to be one of the most hotly debated topics in evangelical circles. And, the reason it remains a debated issue is because people have strong perspectives on both sides. So, for the next several days, Out of Ur will be posting videos on both sides of the issue.

Here’s the first video in the series from Rose Madrid-Swetman, co-pastor of a church in Seattle.

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Are men inherently better leaders?

Many people are going to read the title to this post and dismiss the question as absurd. Of course not. But, I often encounter people who assume that the answer to this question must be “yes” based on their conviction that God has ordained men to be leaders in the church. I’d like to address this latter group.

The question, then, is this: If you are a complementarian – i.e. if you believe that God has ordained men to particular leadership roles in the church – do you need to believe that men are inherently better leaders?

Let me make this easy….no.

The logic that seems to convince complementarians otherwise runs (loosely)  like this:

  1. Being a leader entails having certain qualities/attributes.
  2. God ordained men to be leaders in the church.
  3. God wouldn’t ordain men to be leaders unless he had given them the requisite qualities/attributes.
  4. Therefore, men have the requisite qualities/attributes for being leaders in the church.
  5. God wouldn’t limit these leadership roles to men unless they possessed the necessary qualities/attributes of leadership in unique ways.
  6. Therefore, men inherently possess at least some of the necessary qualities/attributes in a way or to a degree that women do not.
  7. And, therefore, men are inherently better leaders (at least in the church).

This argument, though, has a number of key problems, and several of them arise with the very first statement: “Being a leader entails having certain qualities/attributes.” Right away you’re faced with a number of challenging difficulties:

  • There is no agreed upon set of qualities/attributes necessary for being a leader. Just read the literature. Everyone who studies the question seems to have their own definition of what it means to be a leader.
  • There is no research to support the conclusion that men disproportionately manifest the qualities of being an effective leader (whatever those are). Here you realize that even if you manage to identify the qualities necessary for being a leader, you simply have no evidence for concluding that men possess these qualities any more than women do.
  • Even if you could find research to support the conclusion that men exhibit some leadership quality disproportionately more than women, you would still need to determine why that is the case. For example, let’s say that a study concluded that men are more decisive in decision-making than women. (I’m not aware of any such study, but let’s pretend.) That still would not prove your case because it’s entirely possible that the difference comes from societal expectations of how boys and girls should behave, how they should be raised, the kinds of decisions they should be involved in, etc. So, even a statistical variance would be a far cry from proving your case.
  • Descriptions of “leadership” are often driven more by culture than theology. If we change the picture and focus on the qualities that Jesus exhibited during his earthy ministry – for example, compassion, patient suffering, gratitude, humility, gentleness, nurturing, etc. – would we still be trying to argue that men exhibit these qualities disproportionately more than women? Good luck with that.

I could probably add other arguments, but these seem sufficient to establish that the first step in this argument faces some significant difficulties.

Skipping past the second assertion since I’m only focusing on people who believe this to be true, there are also significant problems with the third assertion: “God wouldn’t ordain men to be leaders unless he had given them the requisite qualities/attributes.”

Really? What would lead us to believe that this is necessarily the case? Throughout the Bible God apparently delights in calling people into positions of leadership who seem obviously unqualified for the position: Moses, David, Saul, etc. These were deeply flawed individuals who often serve as better examples of how to sin effectively than how to lead appropriately. Indeed, God’s grace is often displayed better by accomplishing his plans and purposes through the outcast, the lowly, and the ungifted. Viewed from this perspective, then, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the complementarian to assume that men may actually be less gifted in leadership than women, but that God has called them into leadership anyway and that he will graciously empower them for and support them in this calling? Why presume that people must be gifted before God calls them to a particular task? Did the donkey have the gift of speech before God called it to speak to Balaam? (Yes, I did just compare Christian men to a talking donkey.)

And, once you’ve called into question the first and third assertions, the argument really has nowhere to go. (You could also pick on the fifth assertion if you really felt the need to destroy this argument a bit more.)

Now again, none of this has anything to do with whether it is correct to believe that God has ordained men to specific leadership roles in the church. That is a completely separate issue. I just want to point out that there is no necessary connection between complementarianism and the belief that men inherently possess some quality or qualities that make them better leaders. Leadership is a function, not an attribute. The real question is not whether you have the essential/inherent qualities necessary for being a good leader, as though God depended on our capacities and abilities to accomplish his purposes. The real question is whether God in his grace has called you to be a leader in his church and how you will do so as faithfully as possible with everything that he has given you.

The latest issue of ATI looks outstanding – check it out

If you’re not following the American Theology Inquiry journal (ATI), you really should. It’s a free online journal that just seems to be getting better with each issue. The latest issue of the journal just came out and it looks great. I’ll definitely be digging into some of these as soon as I get the chance.

Here are the articles in this issue:

  • “Reassessing the Relation of Reformation and Orthodoxy: A Methodological Rejoinder”, Richard A. Mueller
  • Discovering the Sacred in Secular Art: An Aesthetic Modality that ‘Speaks of God'”,  Christopher Evan Longhurst
  • A Match Made in Munich: The Origin of Grenz’s Trinitarian Theology,” Jason S. Sexton
  • “The Best Man Is Only a Man: Reflections on Some Enchantments and Disenchantments of the Grail,” Charles M. Natoli
  • “There Is No Sex in the Church,” Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov
  • “The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree,” J. Lyle Story

In (partial) defense of the CBMW statement on the NIV 2011

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) recently released a statement regarding their evaluation of the NIV 2011. And, although they indicate that the NIV 2011 is a marked improvement of the TNIV, they offer a number of reasons explaining why this still cannot recommend it.

Since that statement was released, I’ve seen a number of fairly critical and dismissive posts of the CBMW stance on the NIV 2011. And, I’m not convinced that such dismissals are entirely fair. At the very least I think people need to be more clear whether they are disagreeing with CBMW’s basic position (in which case, they are not going to like anything CBMS says), or whether they think there is something particularly egregious about this particular statement.

Setting aside that question of whether CBMW’s basic position is correct, I actually found the statement to be rather well done. The tone was charitable and they clearly identified those areas of continued disagreement that prevented them from recommending the NIV 2011 to their readers. They even offered a couple of very specific examples of the kind of translation theory that they find objectionable. (The only significant problem that I’ve seen, as TC points out, is their statement that the NIV 2011 is “based on the TNIV,” when it was actually based on both the TNIV and the NIV 1984.) So, unlike others, I found the statement to be a good example of charity and clarity in theological discourse and well within the stated mission and purpose of CBMW. (Note: I am not CBMW member – do they have members? – or supporter.)

Of course, none of that has anything to do with whether I agree with their conclusion. And, from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t.

First, I don’t agree that woodenly following the original language’s use of gender results in “greater accuracy” of translation. English is not the same language as does not follow the same rules as Greek and Hebrew. Accuracy in translation requires variation from the original language to the target language – that is simply unavoidable.

I’m also not convinced by the argument that generic, plural pronouns (e.g. they, them, their) necessary obscures the meaning of the relevant passages any more than any other translation would. And, I find it revealing that CBMW expresses significant concern over the possible depersonalizing affects of such translation, but evinces no such similar concern over the possible de-genderizing affects of the alternative possibilites.

So, in the end, I found the CBMW statement to be a well-crafted, clearly articulated, and charitable explanation of a position regarding the NIV 2011 that I personally find unconvincing. I haven’t decided yet whether I think the NIV 2011 is a good step forward, but the CBMW statement did not do anything to convince me otherwise.

The sexual human: sexualizing the image of God

Megan DeFranza, a doctoral student at Marquette, presented an excellent paper yesterday titled, “Sex and the Image of God: Dangers in Evangelical and Roman Catholic Theologies.” Her paper discussed the recent trend toward understanding the human person and the imago Dei primarily through the lens of human sexuality. Although she thinks that there’s a lot to be appreciated about this approach, she also identified a number of concerns that she has with this development.

DeFranza began by explaining the historical process that led to the current situation. She points out that Christian thinkers have historically neglected gender and sexuality in understanding what it means to be fundamentally human. And, like many, she points to Barth as the key turning point. Barth identified the imago Dei with being created “male and female” and introduced the notion of gender-based relationality as fundamental for being human. To be fully human is to be in community.

This relationally-oriented anthropology, which DeFranza calls the relational imago, though, has developed even further in recent years. Unlike Barth, many contemporary theologians argue that it is not simply relationship that makes us human, but sexuality itself. And, this develop corresponds to developments in secular fields of study that also view human sexuality as fundamental to being fully human.  And, it’s this most recent set of developments that DeFranza is concerned about.

To explain this development further, DeFranza focuses on two representative figures: Stanley Grenz and John Paul II. According to DeFranza, Grenz sees the sexed nature of humanity as leaving human persons with a sense of their own incompleteness and a corresponding drive toward bonding with other(s), which finds its ultimate fulfillment in God himself. Thus, human sexuality isn’t fundamentally about procreation or even marriage, but about the innate yearning for completeness and bonding that grounds all human relationships and pushes toward God.

For John Paul II, sexuality is fundamentally about the human capacity to express love, an act in which the human person becomes gift, and thus realizes the ultimate purpose of being human. And, for John Paul II, this is best expressed and realized in marriage. In this approach, marriage itself becomes paradigmatic for true humanity, and even celibacy, which John Paul II still wants to affirm as a vital (and even higher) mode of human existence, is viewed through the lens of marital union.

So, for both Grenz and John Paul II, sex is now viewed as the lens through which we view all forms of human interaction. We discover our humanity through our sexuality.

DeFranza has no problem with the social imago and the emphasis on love, relationship, and community for understanding humanity. But, she’s quite concerned about the more recent move toward what she calls the “sexual imago” (Grenz) and the “spousal image” (John Paul II). And, she offers a number of reasons for this concern.

Uncovering hidden dangers:

  1. The conflation of sex, gender, and sexuality. She seemed particularly concerned with Grenz here. Although she recognizes that Grenz did not use terms like sexual and sexuality to refer to sexual intercourse, she still thought that his interchangeable use of these terms led to an ambiguous presentation that necessarily confused and conflated terms that are importantly different. DeFranza seemed perfectly willing to say that gender is fundamental for being human, but was concerned about extending that conclusion to sexuality in general.
  2. The sexualization of divine love. Although evangelicals and Catholics would certainly not refer to the divine love as sexual in the sense that there is actual intercourse among the divine persons, they are, nonetheless, willing to speak of the divine love as sexual in the sense that it involves different persons with a drive toward one another in bonding and love. But, since DeFranza thinks that using the language of sexuality to describe this love, their approach almost inevitably leads to the conclusion that sexual expression has now been given divine significance.
  3. The weakening of traditional sexual ethics. If human sexuality is grounded in divine “sexuality,” what parameters can we give for how this sexuality is properly expressed? While most evangelicals and Catholics want to continue affirming monogamous, heterosexual intercourse as the norm, others have not been so restrained. Why not homosexual love (since the Father and Son are both male) or sex with multiple partners (since there are three persons)? And, she’s also concerned that this approach is used to support adultery and divorce. What if you are in a sexually unfulfilling relationship? Would it not be better for one or both parties to find other partners with whom they can more fully express their humanity and experience the divine love?
  4. The undermining of celibacy. DeFranza routinely expressed concerns that the sexual imago and the social imago ultimately undermines the legitimacy of celibate lifestyles, particularly those who are involuntarily celibate. Such persons seem to be missing out on something fundamental for being human and an important experience of the divine love itself. She recognizes that both of the thinkers she reviews would reject this conclusion (John Paul II goes out of his way to affirm the importance of celibacy), but she still thinks that the concern is legitimate.
  5. Concern for the sexually dysfunctional. DeFranza is also concerned about what the sexualized imago will mean for those who experience significant sexual dysfunction. Once again, their essential humanity and their experience of God himself seems at risk.

So, DeFranza concludes that we should hold onto the positive aspects of the social imago, while avoiding the dangers that she thinks are inherent to the sexual/spousal imagos. She thinks we can do this by doing the following.

  1. Develop better readings of Genesis 1-2 that affirm the social nature of humanity without resorting to a sexualized notion of humanity.
  2. Clearly differentiate between the social and the sexual/spousal. The former does not entail the latter and should be an important part of any anthropology.
  3. Clearly differentiate between the sexual and the spousal. She thinks some of the dangers could be avoided if we recognized that spousal love involves far more than sexual love, so distinguishing them can help us appreciate the rich depths of spousal love. But, even with this distinction, she argues that we should not view spousal love as paradigmatic for all human relationships. It is one of many expressions of the social imago, not its essence.

I really enjoyed DeFranza’s paper. One particularly interesting element was when she addressed the ways in which the works of people like Grenz and John Paul II have filtered down to more popular level writings, and in ways that both thinkers would find highly inappropriate. I could be wrong, but I got the distinct impression that many of the concerns she raised came from her interaction with these works. While some might argue that it is not entirely fair to criticize Grenz and John Paul II for the ways that other people use their ideas, especially when those people use the ideas in ways that these thinkers would have disapproved, it does raise the interesting question of how much responsibility thinkers have for the trajectory that their ideas take after them. At the very least, if a concept or idea consistently leads others to inappropriate conclusions, the concept or idea should be seriously re-evaluated.

And, that gets me to my one real criticism of the paper. I think the paper would have been considerably stronger if DeFranza had distinguished between what Grenz and John Paul II were clearly trying to do and the ramifications that she thinks their ideas have had or might have. For example, she routinely critiqued Grenz’s approach for making sexual intercourse essential to humanity. But, Grenz himself did no such thing. I think he is very clear in his writings that he was not talking about intercourse at all, but the sense of incompleteness that results in a drive toward bonding. Whenever Grenz used terms like “sexual” and “sexuality”, it was this broader notion that he had in mind and not actual intercourse. Even if DeFranza thinks that this is an unfortunate use of language that conflates gender with sexuality and necessarily misleads others into concluding that sexual expression is fundamental to humanity (which, again, is a legitimate critique), I would have liked to see a clearer explanation that this was not Grenz’s actual position.

Nonetheless, it was a fascinating paper. And, it has caused me to re-evaluate my own use of terminology. Like Grenz, I have had a tendency to use gender, sex, sexual, and sexuality rather interchangeably when talking about the human person (e.g.,“Sexuality: Theological Perspectives on Being Gendered”). While I know what I’m trying to say, I probably need to be more aware of how this language might be (mis)heard and (mis)used by others.

Flotsam and jetsam (7/14)