So Nimm Denn Meine Hande...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Reviewing "The Biblical Case for Equality"...

Now the whole "women in ministry" issue is nothing new in the Mennonite Brethren Conference. This whole issue has been on the table for well over a decade, with so much stuff being said that it's almost impossible to keep track of everything. That being said, things are moving a little slower at my home church. Church council is meeting in 5 days to discuss the issue regarding the ordination of women and I completely suspect that the Egalitarian case will triumph where as the Complimentarian case will essentially be given two cents and kicked out the door...but I'm not here to whine. I'm here to review the book that was recommended in my church bulletin as a "further reading" on the Egalitarian position.

Before I go on, I'll define my terms (In as much as attempts to define always lead to a hundred objections to the definition...argh!). The "Egalitarian" position holds to complete, unrestricted gender equality in both person and function in the church. They claim that the bible teaches that women can be in all positions of ministry, including the senior pastorate. The "Complimentarian" position holds that men and women, though equally saved, have different roles and responsibilities in the church; they claim that the bible teaches that women can not be in all positions of ministry, which essentially rules them out from the senior pastorate (and possibly other positions where they would be required to authoritatively teach men in a church setting).

I'm not going to expand on this whole issue though. I'm goint to review "The Biblical Case for Equality" by Arden Thiessen. Here we go!

Now, right off the bat, I will say that much of what Thiessen finds disturbing in the church is also disturbing to me. I have a contempt for chauvanism and the abuse of women, and I definitely agree that history has seen a literal tsunami of power abuses of men over women in the church. In as much as the church should be characterized by love, especially between husbands and wives, it has not. My own mother was driven to serious despair by a horrible chauvanist in my home church who was on the board of elders and had a very unbiblical view of women. I do have a serious passion for the restoration of women to a more prominent role, and the accompanying honor, in the North American Church. Women have been lied to by our culture of eroticism and chauvanism and many in the church have bought into the secular, anti-christian worldview of women. I would definitely join with Thiessen in tearing down some of the altars to chauvanism and sexism that we find in the church. That being said, I take some serious issues with how Thiessen goes about doing that... I'll put this in point form to make it a little easier to follow:

1. Thiessen seems to be lumping Complimentarianism in the same boat with chauvanism and pornography. Unless I am horribly mistaken, he sees this whole debate as being an "Complete Gender Equality versus Male Supremacy/Female Inferiority" debate. I don't know who the heck he has read when it comes to Complimentarianism, but when I read his book it sounds like he's more angry at Larry Flint and Hugh Hefner than Wayne Grudem and John Piper. I don't know any Complimentarians who argue for "Male Supremacy", and Thiessen seems to use that phrase every other page. If I were to guess, I'd suspect that the whole book is a reaction to personal hurts and negative experiences with a few churches that he's been around. He doesn't quote any Complimentarians in his book and doesn't even address the arguments of the Complimentarian position at all. He spends 161 pages fighting a straw man and I'd be surprised if he's even read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which is the definitive Complimentarian treatment on the subject of "women in ministry" (available for free from you cheap mennos have NO excuse now! It's FREE!). In his book, almost everything that Thiessen slams I'd slam too. None the less, I also have some specific points regarding which I would take him to task.

2. The biggest problem with Thiessens' work is that is systemically flawed. His entire work is a flaming violation of the third rule of Hillel (an ancient Jewish scholar who established some foundational rules of exegesis that have been around for a few thousand years). The third rule of Hillel is "Binyan ab mikathub echad (Building of the father from one text)". The third rule essentially means "The clear text interprets the unclear" and it essentially means "the clear text is where you start". Thiessen spends 10 chapters establishing, from biblical principles, observations of Jesus and the Apostles, and several secondary texts indirectly related to women in ministry (Romans 16:30, Gal. 3:28, etc.) his "doctrine of equality". Then, in his 11th chapter he tosses out 1 Corinthians 11:3, 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 on the basis of apparent unclarity in those texts and a desire to uphold the "doctrine of equality". I'm guessing that he knew that people would catch his "reverse exegesis" because on page 135 he says "My conviction now is that the doctrine of equality, as developed here, must be allowed to stand on its own feet. It is not good hermeneutics to start with these “exceptions” and then interpret the rest of the Scriptures to fit them." That, my friends, is completely backwards. Establishing a "doctrine" without incorporating the three key clarifying texts related to that doctrine is bad hermeneutics. That's like trying to build a pyramid from the top down. He starts with his conclusion and then attempts to dismiss the clear texts that stand against him. That kind of exegetical trickery, especially coming from a theology professor, is inexcusable. The fact that he attempts to excuse himself only seems to point to me that he knows that there's a strong change he'll get caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

3. There is also some serious poor arguments that Thiessen argues against or uses himself:

-On page 10 he attempts to show division in the Complimentarian camp. He comments that though the Southern Baptists don't allow women into the pastorate, Jimmy Carter (who's a Southern Baptist) disagrees with them. I mean, is Jimmy Carter regarded by any Southern Baptist as a theologian? Who cares what Jimmy Carter thinks!

-On page 24 he claims that Complimentarians equate gender equality with homosexuality. What in the world? I've never heard any Complimentarian suggest that, and I'd never suggest such idiocy.

-On page 27 he parallels Complimentarians with Friedrich Nietzsche, though he admits that it would be difficult to establish evidence of influence. I'd agree.

-On page 41 he suggests that Complimentarians logically deduce that because women were created second, they should be silent in churches (based on logical deduction, not scriptural precedent). I've also never heard that line of logic. I've heard the whole "Paul teaches that in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and 14:34, and because the BIBLE says so I better obey", but I've never heard the line of reasoning that Thiessen uses.

-On page 46 he uses one of my favorite arguments: "The word 'pastor' doesn't even appear in 1 Corinthians 11:3, 14:34, or 1 Timothy 2:11-15". Really? If we use that reasoning, we have to reject plenty of Protestant doctrines, like, uh, say, the doctrine of the Trinity! The word "trinity" doesn't appear in the bible anywhere...anyone up for becoming modalists? Or maybe Mormons? No? What's worse, the phrase "doctrine of equality" and "male supremacy" don't even appear in the bible either. It's interesting how Thiessen's entire reasoning for his argument is based upon the building of a theological construct and yet he mocks his opponents theological construct simply because it's a theological construct.

-On page 56 Thiessen tries to suggest that though Adam was made from dirt and Eve was made from Adam, they both have the same origin (though Eve's was a 2 step process.). I have never read anyone who suggested that they were both made from dirt, though Eve's was a 2 step process. New idea, and promptly dismissed by the apostle Paul when he comments on the creation order in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy.

-On page 60-61 Thiessen tries to suggest that the curse in Genesis 3 was against the earth, but not Adam and Eve. Excuse me? Talk about being literalistic as opposed to literal...

-On page 75-76, he allows the Old Testament 'exceptions' of Miriam, Deborah and Huldah to establish his "doctrine of equality" and show that female equality was already existent in the Old Testament. Strange that he tosses out the New Testament 'excpetions' on the basis of the same "doctrine of equality". That sounds like some seriously arbitrary application of a doctrine.

-On page 92, Thiessen suggest that in Luke 7, the annointing of the sinful woman was shocking because she was a woman, not because she was a prostitute. Again, an idea that I've never encountered. Does anyone other than Thiessen think that femininity was more offensive to the Pharisees than prostitution?

-On page 108, Thiessen tries to argue that the New Testament teaches the abolition of slavery. I couldn't understand this one. If one thing is clear in the New Testament, it's that sin, not slavery, is wrong. 1 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 6, Colossians 3&4, Titus 2, 1 Peter 2, and the entire book of Philemon seem to indicate that the New Testament doesn't have a problem with slavery. The problem was with sin...and although the two historically have gone hand in hand, the New Testament definitely makes allowances for slavery. If a master is righteous and treats his slaves with love, he commits no sin (unless, of course, the country he lives in outlaws almost every country today...). That's a hard one for us to swallow these days, but it's true. (I'm sure that one will offend people enough that I may need to do a post on that alone...doh!)

-On page 132-133, Thiessen uses another one of my favorite arguments: "If women have giftings for ministry, who are we to tell them not to use their gifts?". I'd simply answer his question with another question: "If God gives us clear instruction in scripture as to how we are and are not allowed to use the gifts that he's given us, who are we to demand disobedience to God?" Not to brag, but I'm a decent speaker and I have pretty good conversational and people skills. God has blessed me with a relatively quick witt and a bronze (arguably silver) tongue. Does this mean that I can use my skills to manipulate people in my sales job? Not at all, though I know I could. Or can a Christian woman who's really good at organizing things become the next Heidi Fleiss? No! Though God may have gifted her with administration abilities, there are certain rules for the proper use of those gifts. God gives gifts, but God also gives regulations on how to use those gifts.

4. Worst of all, Thiessen's book contains an obvious lie. Now I know that's an aggressive statement, but I will entertain the possibility that Thiessen is unaware of this. This lie is alluded to on Pages 125 and explicitly spelled out on page 140, where he talks about Christ's subordination to the Father. Due to the serious nature of my accusation, I'll give an extensive block quote. He's speaking on 1 Corinthians 11:3 when he says:

"The text we are studying here implies that there is a parallel between the husband being the head of the wife and God being the head of Christ. Rather than clarifying anything, this mystifies the issue. This takes us into the unfathomable mystery of the Trinity. Since the fourth century, the Church has generally agreed that Christ is not in any way less than fully God. The doctrine of subordination, which says that Christ is subortinate to the Father, has been seen as a false teaching. This judgement was established in response to the Arian threat. The aim of Arianism was to diminish the role of Christ, to make him a lesser god, and to simplify the doctrine of God by establishing a divine hierarchy."

Now Thiessen must be blissfully unaware of what actually occured at the Council of Nicea, and what the heresy of Arius actually was. He speaks as if his version of "subordinationism" was the topic at hand with Arius and the Council of Nicea. "Subordinationism", the way he describes it, was in fact embraced by the Council of Nicea. Really? So what gives?

Well, as any professional theologian would tell you, there were two types of subordination. Arius suggested an ontological subordination of the Son to the Father. The Father was God but the Son was not God. Arius suggested that Jesus was a lesser being than the father, being created sometime in history. The Council of Nicea rejected Arius' ideas as heresy, but church history records a different concept of "subordinationism" being embraced by the Council of Nicea... Functional Subordination is the Biblical position that although the Father is God and the Son is God, they don't have the same roles; the Son submits to the Father's will and serves him. Philippians 2:5-11 lays this out and is the pivotal passage for the biblical, historical position of functional subordination. So, in 1 Corinthians 11:3, the argument for female subordination to men rests on Christs' subordination to the Father. The council of Nicea recognized that the Father and the Son are of the same essence (homouseia), but not substance; the Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Son. There is a difference in role; in function.

Any half-baked Complimentarian could illustrate that Philippians 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 both work together to give an example of the equality with functional differences between men and women being rooted in the Trinity itself. Jesus is no less of God than the Father, just like women are not 'lesser' than men. None the less, as it was Christ's role and joy to serve the Father, so women have God's ascribed role in which they should seek their joy. In fact, this is the most compelling argument for Complimentarianism. Complimentarianism is based on the scripture, and the scriptural arguments are based on the creation order and the very relationships between the persons of the Trinity.

Thiessen is a professional theologian...he is adjunct faculty at Providence College and Seminary and also Steinbach Bible College. He's also been a pastor and a bible teacher for decades. He should know better. It's unthinkable that he would propagate such an obvious lie knowingly, but the alternative (unknowing propagation of an obvious lie) suggest lazy scholarship. I'm beginning to think Thiessen doesn't take truth, let alone Complimentarians, as seriously as he claims. All it would have taken is 10 seconds with the internet.

Other than that, great book.

I've gotta a massive cold and I'm stinking tired, so I'd better head to bed before I start saying things tongue-in-cheek. Good thing I stopped before I started. I'm off to bed now. Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the post. You know that I have been struggled with this issue for some time. It is funny to have to admit that on Biblical evidence alone, I do not think that egalitarianism is arguable. In the very least, it could only be considered possible at best. However, the Bible is complimentarian by the most simple reading of the test, which I would generally argue is the best reading of the text.

I think the congregational model confuses the issue quite a bit because the authority is spread throughout the entire congregation. Although, this is true on paper, I would say that the MB's maintain theological authority at the conference level. That would then beg the question, "Where is the true authoritative teaching coming from?" I think this is a clouding issue in the MB Conference.

I know that may sound like a dodging of the issue but I suspect that it will be something that makes the study conference just a little bit more confusing. Beyond that, I suspect that it is not a given that the Conference will accept the egalitarian position. There a quite a few more conservative people in the conference than you would imagine.

9:59 AM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

Uh, who are you Mr. Anonymous? I don't have a clue. Feel free to e-mail me and let me know...just for curiosity's sake.

11:20 AM

Blogger Bruce said...

We are all loved by Father God equally. That is the beginning- and sometimes the end- of equality.

1:20 AM


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