Monday, October 27, 2014

A soft complementarian position denying the eternal subordination of the Son

Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles in Ministry by Kathy Keller.

This is part of Zondervan's "Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry" series, the other volumes being John Dickson's Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons (see my review here) and Michael Bird's Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry.

Kathy Keller is the wife of Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. The book is written in two parts. The first part ("Hermeneutical Imperatives") discusses relevant New Testament texts. Keller seems to be a soft complementarian. She translates 1 Timothy 2:12 as "I do not permit a woman to authoritatively teach a man", and believes that this still applies today. On the other hand, she is fine with women leading mixed Bible study groups. Following Redeemer's policy, she believes that women can do everything in the church that a non-ordained man can do. This does, however, presuppose a very high view of ordination. Although the emphasis in the pastoral epistles is certainly on the work of the pastor, especially preaching and teaching, Paul does not say "I do not permit a non-ordained person to authoritatively teach a man". In fact, just a few verses before, Paul had said that "the men should pray, lifting holy hands", and that the women "should adorn themselves in respectable apparel" (1 Tim. 2:8-9). Clearly, then, male/female roles and conduct are in mind, and not merely the ordained/non-ordained distinction.

In the second part of the book ("Personal Journeys"), Keller is apparently trying to reach out to disaffected women. She distances herself from anyone who is more complementarian than she (p. 33):
I am frequently embarrassed by others who use the title "complementarian" but who go beyond Scripture to legislate arbitrary rules about the age of boys when women must not teach Sunday school to them any longer, or whether a female small group leader should have a male co-leader if the group is mixed, and so on.

More disturbing, however, are Keller's views about the eternal subordination of the Son (p. 47). She says, "Jesus' submission to the Father was limited to his earthly incarnation" and "to my knowledge, no complementarian has ever espoused such a thing, despite egalitarian charges to the contrary". Well, Keller's knowledge is rather limited, because a host of complementarians have demonstrated that this is the historic Christian doctrine. See, for example, Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father by Wayne Grudem, The Eternal Subordination of the Son Is the Historic Doctrine of the Church by Dave Miller, and A Defense of the Doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son by Stephen Kovach and Peter Schemm.

I'm afraid I couldn't help thinking that Keller was selected to write this book because Zondervan wanted the complementarian case to be presented by a woman. It would, however, have been better to ask someone more qualified to write this volume.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A revolution based on what a verse doesn't say

Hearing Her Voice: A Biblical Invitation for Women to Preach by John Dickson

This book is all about one verse in the New Testament: 1 Timothy 2:12, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." Dickson argues that the verse does not forbid women from giving sermons today. His argument is as follows (pp. 80-81): There are many different different forms of public speaking in the New Testament, such as "exhorting", "preaching", and "teaching". Only one of them is forbidden to women – "teaching", in 1 Tim. 2:12. According to Dickson, this actually refers to "preserving and laying down the traditions handed on by the apostles", and this is not what happens in most modern-day sermons. Hence, women are allowed to give sermons today.

This is a rather idiosyncratic, and certainly very narrow definition of "teaching", and Dickson is not convincing. But even if we were to grant his definition, he is still on very flimsy ground.

Dickson fails to demonstrate why women are allowed to "exhort". The New Testament seems to use that word in two different ways: both personal encouragement, and delivering a "word of exhortation". The latter is used in Hebrews 13:22, in reference to the entire book, and Hebrews does seem to be a sermon, or at least composed of sermonic material. Why can women give this sort of exhortation? Dickson seems to suggest that because that particular word is not used as a prohibited activity for women, it is allowed. In this way, Dickson stands firmly in the Anglican tradition of the normative principle of worship, holding that whatever is not forbidden is allowed, but as an adherent of the regulative principle, I must reject this. The onus is on Dickson to demonstrate that women are allowed to preach; the fact that they are "not forbidden" is not good enough.

Again, even if we accept Dickson's definition of teaching, it is much better to see it applying today as "telling people what the Bible says". In fact, there is another possible definition, which Dickson completely ignores: "teaching" is what teachers do. And the New Testament says a lot about "teachers". Unfortunately, Dickson fails to mention Ephesians 4:11 ("He gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers"). Actually, he does allude to it on p. 78, and seems to suggest that the office of teacher has ceased. But this verse is talking about the pastor/teacher as a single office, and this office is restricted to men (1 Tim. 3:1-2). This is the office that Timothy held, and he was told to devote himself to "the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching" (1 Tim. 4:13). This is describing the work that a (male) pastor does, and there is no indication in the New Testament that other people do this as well. Thus, there are good reasons why we would conclude from the New Testament that women are not allowed to "exhort", even if we grant Dickson's idea that modern-day sermons are essentially "exhortations" based on the text.

In short, Dickson is presenting an argument from silence. The book has a very feminist-sounding title, and my edition has quite an outrageous subtitle: "A Biblical Invitation for Women to Preach". (Other editions have "A Case for Women Giving Sermons"). Well, it's not a biblical invitation at all. It is based entirely on what Dickson argues one verse is not saying. We should not base doctrines on what single verses say, let alone on what they don't say.