Home Archive for category "Theology"

“Why I’m Still Evangelical” at At the Threshold

I’ve been surprised and excited to see that my recent post on “Why I’m Still Evangelical” at At the Threshold has been being passed around on Facebook quite a bit!

I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t had a chance to post as much here recently, given how extremely busy we’ve been these last couple weeks.  I hope to rectify that soon!  In the meantime, I hope that anyone who makes their way here from my post enjoys looking at some of my and Jeremiah’s older writings.

I’d also love to hear from readers!  I’ve seen a few comments on Facebook, but no comments on the blog post itself yet.  I would love to hear more about what your experience has been and why you do or don’t identify as evangelical.

Postconservatism: Defining the Label, Evaluating the Movement (Pt. 2 of 2)

This post is part of a two-part series.  You may wish to read the first post before proceeding!

A few concluding thoughts about postconservatism in light of Roger Olson‘s book Reformed and Always Reforming:

First, I think Olson is right to want a term to describe those who have become less theologically conservative while still identifying themselves as evangelical.  There are “postevangelicals,” too, which may hold some of the same theological positions (as well as some differing ones), but it’s good for us to recognize both those who stop using the evangelical label and those who retain it.

Secondly, Olson admits that some of the people he identifies as postconservative (e.g. Nancey Murphy, Stanley Grenz, etc.) have not been big fans of the label.  This is interesting to me because I know it was also the case with Karl Barth and neo-orthodoxy.  Well, just as we tend to insist on calling Barth neo-orthodox against his will, I do think there’s some usefulness in using postconservative to describe those who fit our own definitions and understandings of what the word means.

But I think it order to become a more cohesive movement we would need to see more people choosing to identify themselves as postconservative.  This may mean less in academic circles since those Olson would call postconservative often interact with each other’s work a great deal, are real-life friends and colleagues, etc.  They will continue these same relationships regardless of what they’re calling themselves.  However, I wonder the lack of agreement on how to self-identify inhibits postconservatism’s ability to become something that lay people can also understand and identify with.

Thirdly, I think it’s interesting to think about the ways in which postconservatives have been influenced not only by their fundamentalist and neo-evangelical forebearers but also by movements such as neo-orthodoxy and postliberalism.  Are postconservative evangelicals really doing much new or are they merely the evangelicals willing to learn from others?  Regardless, I think they have unique opportunities to speak to other evangelicals.

Fourthly, I think postconservative is perhaps most useful when used to identify scholars more than theological opinions themselves, despite the fact that Olson’s book is focused on the postconservative style of doing theology.  If you talk about theology, there is the question of why we need to say “postconservative” as opposed to simply identifying theology as more “moderate,” “progressive,” or “liberal.”  (Although, admittedly, liberalism and conservative evangelicalism have both been more modern in approach than postconservatism, so a more postmodern/postfoundationalist scholar might want to avoid this spectrum for this reason alone, I suppose.)

There is also, as Nancey Murphy points out (according to Olson), the issues of conservatism being a relative term to begin with.  Anyone wanting to retain what they are handed from the previous generation of postconservative scholars is, in a sense, conservative—although since we would never label a liberal who wanted to continue the liberal tradition as being “conservative,” I think this argument is of questionable relevance.  Even if “conservative” technically implies conserving traditional views, we use it in everyday speech to create a left-right spectrum.

The sense in which “postconservative” seems to always work well, however, is to describe the paths of individual theologians.  If someone comes from a more conservative background but has moved leftward to a certain degree without completely repudiating their roots, it makes sense to use “postconservative” to describe who they are and where they come from.  Of course, if we were to really see a boom of denominations and organizations influenced by postconservatism, what would those who grew up and then remained in this tradition call themselves?  I guess we can answer that when we get there.

Fifthly, in terms of critiquing the book itself, I have two primary complaints.  I did find myself mildly irked that Olson seemed to see postconservatism as coming out of Arminianism more than the Reformed tradition (especially since neo-orthodoxy has been such an influence on many postconservative scholars).  I’m not certain if this is true in terms of where most scholars are actually coming from, but I don’t think it’s a necessary aspect of the journey which leads one to become postconservative.  The book also seems to mention open theism a whole lot, and while it may be a good example of an issue some postconservatives have been willing to reconsider, I don’t think it’s the defining issue by any means—something Olson admits, too, and yet he still seems to focus on it a disproportionate amount.

Similarly, I thought it was curious that more attention was not given to the issue of inerrancy.  A significant part of my own definition of what it means to be postconservative is an abandonment of the doctrine of inerrancy.  Perhaps this merely flows out of the postfoundationalism which Olson mentions, but I thought it would have been worth mentioning in its own right.

Lastly, I want to express that even if several handfuls of postconservative evangelical scholars exist, it doesn’t mean they are welcome at many evangelical institutions (ex: Wheaton, where one has to be an inerrantist and believe in a historical Adam) or in the Evangelical Theological Society (also inerrantist).  And finding a theological home can be even more frustrating when you’re not a professor.  For that reason, I hope that postconservatism (along with postliberalism) matures into something beyond the reaches of the academy, creating space for thoughtful and faithful theological engagement in our pews, as well.

Postconservatism: Defining the Label, Evaluating the Movement (Pt. 1 of 2)

I recently read Roger Olson‘s book Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), mostly because I wanted to hear how someone else was describing postconservative theology.  For a while I’ve had an interest in exploring the outskirts of evangelical theology, and postconservatism is one of the movements with which I feel some level of identification.  Olson identifies six characteristics of postconservative evangelical theology in his first chapter:

“First, postconservatives, like conservatives, presuppose revelation, but they consider its main purpose to be transformation more than information” (53).

Similarly, Olson discusses a focus on the Bible as narrative over propositions.  I appreciated the narrative vs. propositions emphasis more than the transformation vs. information emphasis.  Olson discussed Vanhoozer’s “dramatic approach” to revelation, which is based on speech act theory but otherwise doesn’t sound entirely dissimilar from Wright’s “a troupe of Shakespearean actors making up the fifth act to a long-lost play of Shakespeare’s of which we have only recovered the first four acts” idea.  I’m sure there are important distinctions, but not having read Vanhoozer, I don’t yet know what I’m missing.  Anyway, I agree with the idea that the Bible can’t be treated as a systematic theology textbook.  But I’m not certain I like the “transformation” vs. “information” distinction.  Isn’t information (about God, about God’s work, about ourselves, etc.) what transforms us?  If we didn’t know who Jesus is, how could we be transformed?  I worry about a focus on experience that neglects the intellect, and I’m not certain postconservative theology must prefer experience in this manner.

“A second common characteristic of the postconservative style of evangelical theology is a certain vision of what theology is all about.  For postconservatives theology is a pilgrimage and a journey rather than a discovery and a conquest.  Also, for them the constructive task of theology is always open; there are no closed, once and for all systems of theology” (55).

I agree in large part with this point.  Postconservatives exist only because they have been willing to venture beyond the bounds of conservative evangelical theology, questioning what has not previously been questioned.  I am not certain, however, if this is a characteristic of postconservative theology as much as a characteristic of the individual theologians who have moved in postconservative directions.  I think postconservatives have been willing to change their minds in order to preserve academic integrity and avoid cognitive dissonance more than they have specifically been seeking to move new theological places.  And once they arrive in certain new theological places, they are often unwilling to leave.  For example, how many postconservatives who have abandoned inerrancy would be willing to reconsider that issue?  How many people who have ceased to believe in a historical Adam will one day decide Genesis 1-11 should be taken literally after all?  Postconservatives may be willing to explore new theological possibilities, but they also form new commitments along the way.

“A third characteristic of postconservative theological work is a discomfort and dissatisfaction with the reliance of conservative evangelical theology on Enlightenment and modern modes of thought” (57).

I think this is a very important part of what it means to be postconservative.  Olson talks a great deal about postfoundationalism, critical realism, McIntyre, etc.  It was practically like sitting in on Nancey Murphy’s class again (fond memories!).  It is being postfoundationalist which allows postconservative theology to cease committing bibliolatry, using presupppositional apologetics, etc.

“A fourth common characteristic of the style of evangelical theology called postconservative is its vision of evangelicalism itself…  Postconservatives view evangelicalism as a centered set category rather than a set having boundaries” (59).

I  think this is simply necessary for anyone who wants to continue using the evangelical label after becoming postconservative.  If evangelicalism has rigid boundaries or if the Evangelical Theological Society determines who is in and out, then most postconservatives can no longer be called evangelical.  But if evangelicalism is a centered set with fuzzy boundaries, then people can continue to use the evangelical label (because they want to change its connotations or because they feel it’s important to honor their roots or whatever reason might apply) even as they move past what some more narrow-minded folks might call “evangelicalism.”  Considering evangelicalism a centered set is legitimate—and maybe even best—but it is admittedly self-serving for postconservatives who still want to think of themselves as evangelical.

“A fifth common feature of postconservative evangelical theology is a tendency to view the enduring essence of Christianity, and therefore the core identity of evangelical faith, as spiritual experience rather than as doctrinal belief” (61).

This is the idea of Olson’s about which I am most skeptical.  Isn’t the point of theology to define what we believe?  I would say spiritual experience is important to consider someone’s faith genuine, but an experience with God is not automatically Christianity.  Similarly, Christianity cannot be Christianity without some theological basis.  I would prioritize theology but say that theology truly internalized produces fruit in terms of experience and action.

As for “the core of evangelical faith,” it doesn’t even make sense for this to be defined as “spiritual experience” because this—at least without clarification as to the kind of spiritual experience—seems to say that being evangelical and a “real” Christian are synonymous, which is preposterous.  It seems here that Olson’s definitions of evangelicalism are rather messy.  Yes, maybe evangelicalism should be a centered set, but there is a point at which some Christians are not close enough to that center to be called evangelicals.  It doesn’t mean they haven’t had any spiritual experiences or that they’re not real Christians, but they don’t deserve the evangelical label for either theological or sociological reasons.

“A sixth common feature of postconservative evangelical theology is a tendency to hold relatively lightly to tradition while respecting the Great Tradition of Christian belief” (63).

In some ways this is merely another way of stating that nothing is set in stone and that postconservatives are willing to change their minds about things.  I worry a bit about a deemphasis of tradition and wonder if there must be firm lines between paleo-orthodoxy and postconservativism as Olson implies.  Unfortunately, I think a more thorough exploration of postconservative and paleo-orthodox evangelical theologians is necessary before I can answer that question.

Want to continue reading?  Go on to Pt. 2!

 

Happy Quartodeciman Easter

Today at dusk marks the beginning of Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar. Many early Christians celebrated Passover at this time as a Christian celebration of Jesus, both to mark his sacrifice and to anticipate his coming. They interpreted the Gospel of John as indicating that they should celebrate on the eve of the 14th. This led to one of the largest ecclesiastical disputes in early Christianity, and it marks the earliest dispute on record about matters of church calendar. The real problem is that the Quartodecimans were breaking their fast earlier than other Christians. The other Christians wanted to hold the fast until Sunday (the Lord’s day), but the breaking of the fast by Quartodecimans was disruptive to them. Here is a discussion of the controversy from Eusebius:

1. But the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him:

2. “We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate.

3. He fell asleep at Ephesus.

4. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna.

5. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead?

6. All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.

7. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.’”

8. He then writes of all the bishops who were present with him and thought as he did. His words are as follows:”I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus.”

9. Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate.

10. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor.

11. Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord’s day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom and after many other words he proceeds as follows:

12. “For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night.

13. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith.”

14. He adds to this the following account, which I may properly insert: “Among these were the presbyters before Soter, who presided over the church which thou now rulest. We mean Anicetus, and Pius, and Hyginus, and Telesphorus, and Xystus. They neither observed it themselves, nor did they permit those after them to do so. And yet though not observing it, they were none the less at peace with those who came to them from the parishes in which it was observed; although this observance was more opposed to those who did not observe it.

15. But none were ever cast out on account of this form; but the presbyters before thee who did not observe it, sent the eucharist to those of other parishes who observed it.

16. And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.

17. But though matters were in this shape, they communed together, and Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.”

18. Thus Irenaeus, who truly was well named, became a peacemaker in this matter, exhorting and negotiating in this way in behalf of the peace of the churches. And he conferred by letter about this mooted question, not only with Victor, but also with most of the other rulers of the churches. (EH 5.24)

Theological Responsibility

Moving has kept me from the blog world for far too long.  I promise I’ll try to return to some of my recent post series soon!  Today, though, just a quick thought:

I find myself burdened by what I feel is my “theological responsibility” as a seminary graduate.  I felt this coming on during our final months at Fuller, and I probably feel it more acutely in the last month or so.  By that I mean that I feel that a church or organization that I’m going to “endorse,” especially through financial support, should be improving its members’ theology rather than further corrupting it.  This burden of theological responsibility may just mean I’m picky and/or arrogant, but I believe at least some of it comes from a good place.  It makes me uncomfortable to think of giving a thumbs up to Christian leaders who aren’t theologically educated or reflective and who pass on beliefs and ideas that are innocuously (but annoyingly) wrong at best, and detrimental to the faith lives of their communities at worst.

I can recognize these sort of leaders as Christian brothers and sisters who are well-meaning and who even may get a lot of things right… but I just have trouble stomaching the idea of directly supporting ministries that may explicitly teach the kinds of things you go to seminary to unlearn.  In fact, to do so, to me, feels unethical.  Yes, I feel ethically uncomfortable supporting certain Christian organizations—which are in significant part like-minded and filled with nice people—because I feel as someone with a theological education I have some sort of responsibility to the larger Christian world to not condone what I know to be teaching that is just plain wrong (and, on a positive note, to encourage people to be thoughtful Christians with exposure to a wide range of ideas).

I think my awareness of this problem is exacerbated greatly by the general lack of moderate Christian organizations out there.  I want very much to be able to stand behind positive Christian causes and to participate in their ministries (directly or indirectly).  But I find myself asking who is left that I really feel comfortable supporting right now.

Anyone else (seminarian or not) have this issue? Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in this realm.

From the Dilettante Files: Prismatic Theology

A couple years ago, I attended my very first meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans. As I was meandering through the hallways in search of interesting sessions, my attention was drawn by a colorful poster placed upon a board which was in use for the poster sessions. It took about .002 nanoseconds to figure out that some whack-job had hijacked the poster session board. I meant to blog on it then, but I forgot
about it until some particularly ridiculous bit of dilettantish behavior mentioned on Scotteriology reminded me of it. Anyway, I bring to your attention ladies and gentlemen: Prismatic Theology. What is Prismatic Theology you might ask, and the answer is about what you’d expect. From the about page:

[W]hile my husband and I drove from Tulsa, OK to Eureka Springs, AR the unexpected happened! It was a beautiful Fall day and the foliage in the Ozark Mountains was particularly brilliant …yellow, orange, red, purple and green leaves dotted the hillsides! But something other than the colorful leaves caught my attention. An image appeared between the windshield of our car and my mind’s eye. The vision that I saw was an organizational structure for ministry. It was in the shape of a square and it looked like a fishing net which had the colors of the rainbow woven into its structure.

The vision came to me from beyond myself and I have no rational explanation for it. The only thing that I can say for certain is that the vision came with a complete understanding of how ‘The Net’ was to function. Moreover the new knowledge was instantaneous and could not be un-learned…During the next four years,1996 – 2000, I experienced a continuous supernatural influx of instruction. At times the intensity of the teaching and the amount of information was beyond what I thought I could handle. I begged for a respite but no rest came until Oct, 2000. By the end of the four year period of time however I had an awareness of three tools for ministry here on earth: A Clock, a Key, and a Net![emphasis original].

Ok, so she had a vision, but what on earth does prismatic theology even mean? From what I can tell, she seems to have haphazardly applied her vision to a variety of random things in the Bible. For example: The creation story in Genesis 1 should not be understood as linear, but rather as circular…because color wheels are round…or something. Unexplained prophetic vision? Color wheels to the rescue! Her application of the color wheel often breaks down into incoherent rambling:

It is unlikely that the wheel was successfully used in ancient times as a means of measuring time relative to the 24-hour measurement. However through the gift of hindsight, a synchronization of ‘bible-time’ and ‘earth-time’ becomes possible. The entire wheel accounts for the counter-clock-wise passage of 8,400 years of which 6,000+ years have elapsed and 2,100+ remain.

What? At least there are plenty of nifty colorful pictures. If you think the climax of absurdity has been reached, get ready to be blown away. She has presented this crap at SBL!

When my research was complete, I joined the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion in order to present my research. I wanted the scholarly community to listen to the information and either tell me that I was crazy; laugh me off of the planet; or help me understand why the insights couldn’t possibly be accurate. But no one laughed. And after several years of presenting academic papers I’m still on the planet. A few scholars commented on the ‘unconventional nature of the wisdom’ saying, “I’ve never thought about this” or “I’ve never seen anything like this.”  But no one told me that the conclusions I offer cannot possibly be accurate.

I’m all about sunshine and kindness, but for the love of Pete why didn’t anyone say, “Yes madam, you are indeed crazy.” The fact that no one did so is allowing her to trade on the name of the SBL. Her website lists her “academic papers presented within the Society of Biblical Literature” including three regional meetings and a national meeting. I’m no fan of censorship, but who is letting this woman into their sessions? Do her abstracts sound distinctly less crazy or something?

Carol, if you are reading this, I have no desire to hurt your feelings, but what you are doing is not scholarship. It does not belong at SBL, and you shouldn’t be hawking DVDs about it on the internet. If you are really interested in Biblical Studies, I suggest that you seek training from an accredited institution of higher learning or contact someone who has had such training and ask for a list of books to read.

Those Liberal “Moderates”: Responding to Grudem on Evangelical Feminism & Heresy (Ch. 14-16)

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

Ch. 14- “Calling” Trumps Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put a subjective sense of “calling” above the Bible
In this chapter Grudem complains about how women who think they have a calling will simply set aside the Bible in order to follow it.  My big problem with this chapter is how ridiculously misinformed Grudem seems to be about how evangelical women end up in ministry.  Yes, it’s virtually essential for them to have a strong sense of calling to walk the difficult path towards ordination.  However, it’s their very dedication to Scripture (and the default complementarian position most of them start with) which makes that sense of calling so essential—without it, they wouldn’t dare even consider going into ministry!  In my experience, women who do feel God’s call to be pastors are at first very reluctant to follow and do not do so until after they have spent a great deal of time in study and prayer.

Grudem is wrong to assume that their “call” leads them to ignore Scripture.  On the contrary, this call pushes them into Scripture and until they are 100% convinced that they have no heard God wrong, most evangelical women do not think of themselves as ministry material.  The ones who do enter ministry obviously come to different conclusions about the Bible than Grudem, but that does not mean he should be allowed to dismiss the ease with which many evangelical women ignore their callings for years, nor the seriousness with which these women eventually investigate gender issues in Scripture.

Ch. 15- “Prophecies” Trump Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put contemporary prophecies above the Bible
In this chapter Grudem—who, notably, does believe in prophecy and other charismatic gifts today—complains that some evangelicals say God has told them there are going to be more women in ministry.  Honestly, I have little to say about this chapter, because I’m generally skeptical towards prophecy.  Grudem is right that prophecy shouldn’t contradict what we know to be true.  Of course, he and I disagree on that starting point from which prophecies might be judged.  Altogether, then, this ends up being a pointless chapter.  All prophecy should avoid blatant contradictions of our theology, so the question is really, what would we be teaching about women in ministry to begin with?

Ch. 16- Circumstances Trump Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put unique circumstances above the Bible
This is another chapter where I feel Grudem largely misrepresents egalitarians.  While, yes, many of them argue that it is illogical to hold back half the church from ministry when there are so many needs in the world, they do not say that desperate circumstances themselves are what excuse women in ministry.  Instead, we believe women should be involved in ministry, regardless of the level of need out there.  We reject ideas like “God called a man to this position, but because the man said no and God really needs this done, he has now called a woman.”  We aren’t substitutes, nor are we responding to a second-class draft which God initiated because the enormity of the task before us requires more men than are available.  In this sense, we don’t even believe what Grudem claims we do.  He is right, however, that most of us think that God—not being an idiot—has no interest in immobilizing half of his workforce.


Those Liberal “Moderates”: Responding to Grudem on Evangelical Feminism & Heresy (Ch. 13)

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.


Ch. 13- Experience Trumps Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put experience above the Bible
This chapter was so exhausting I thought it deserved its own post.   Grudem splits the chapter into a few sections, so I will do so, as well.

A. How can God bless the ministries of some women?
Grudem says it is “because God’s word is powerful, and God brings blessing through his Word to those who hear it” (120), regardless of whether or not God likes the preacher.  He gives the example of Samson as someone whom God used despite not always doing things right.

B. The Danger of Loss of God’s Protection and Blessing
This section was crazy.  Seriously crazy.  Either Grudem is not as smart as his Harvard and Cambridge roots imply or he’s being deliberately manipulative.  He begins the section by asserting that “[i]f a woman goes on serving as an elder or pastor, I believe she is doing so outside the will of God, and she has no guarantee of God’s protection on her life” (121).  I’m not totally certain what he means by “protection” to begin with (since obviously bad things happen to good people all the time…), but he does offer a couple of examples of the chaos that might befall a female pastor:

First, there is the example of Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), founder of the Foursquare Church (a Pentecostal denomination) in the early 1900s.  She ended up divorced twice, “kidnapped” once (which looked like a runaway affair after the fact), and dead at 54 from an accidental drug overdose.  I didn’t know her personally, so I can’t know what really went on in her brief but dramatic life.  I admit, however, that her character sounds highly suspicious.  What that has to do with women in ministry as a general topic, however, I don’t know.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, Grudem offers an even more extreme example next: Judy Brown.  Judy Brown was an Assemblies of God pastor and former Bible college professor.  In 2004 she was convicted of “malicious wounding and burglary with the intent to commit murder.”  Basically, she had become involved with her neighbor’s wife, and she broke into the home to kill the husband.  Grudem loves this story for two reasons:

(1) Judy Brown had recently written an article published in the first edition of Discovering Biblical Equality, published by InterVarsity Press (when IVP found out what happened, the book was immediately re-released without Brown’s article).  As I have mentioned, Grudem loves to point out that IVP is so egalitarian-friendly.

(2) Judy Brown specifically had a “lesbian relationship” (122).  Since he has a later chapter dedicated to explaining how evangelical feminism ultimately leads to homosexuality, I’m sure Grudem was delighted to tell this woman’s story.

And Grudem attributes none of this to mental illness.  To him, she’s just another great example of the depravity of the “evangelical feminists.”  He says that if she had only taught women, he expects she wouldn’t have had God’s blessing removed from her life and wouldn’t have “tragically lost the ability to make wise judgments” (123).

Some may object to my bringing up the examples of these women, and say, “But what about the hundreds of male pastors who have committed great sins, bringing reproach on themselves and their churches?  Why pick on these two women when many more men have sinned just as badly?

I agree that many male pastors have also fallen into very serious sin.  And I do not doubt that in many of those cases God also withdrew his protection and blessing from them.  But in their cases the reason cannot be that the Bible forbids men to become pastors!  Surely nobody would argue that!  [He goes on...]

But with these women pastors, the most obvious, evident sin is that of disobeying God’s directions that a woman should not “teach or . . . exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12).  And that is why I believe there is a connection between women being ordained and exercising leadership as pastors and tragic results in their personal lives. (123-124)

I’ve never seen such terribly circular logic in my life.

C. What does historical “experience” really demonstrate about women’s ministries?
Grudem also enjoys pointing out the declines in membership and financial support within mainline Protestantism.  Apparently we are to measure ministry faithfulness by ministry “success” and ministry success by numbers of people and dollar bills.

D. We cannot immediately see all the consequences of women being pastors
(1) “Many of the most conservative, faithful, Bible-believing members of the church will leave” (126).
(2) Other members will disagree but stay and will have their confidence in Scripture eroded over time because they think the leaders are encouraging disobedience.
(3) Those who accept women in ministry will become theologically liberal.
(4) Churches will become “feminized.”  (I swear, if I have to hear someone bitch about this one more time…)
(5) Men will also lose their positions of authority at home.
(6) Children will grow up gender-confused.

E. Putting experience above the Bible is a form of “situation ethics” and is also the foundational principle of modern liberalism
Grudem refers to Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics: The New Morality (1966), explaining that “[h]e argued that people at times needed to break God’s moral laws in the Bible in order to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people” (128).  The last time I checked that was utilitarianism.  So, Grudem, let’s talk about Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.  Maybe you like Kant better?  Look, if we’re going to talk ethics, let’s do so the right way and actually talk ethics.  I personally think Kant makes a lot more sense if we’re going to talk about philosophers egalitarians might like, so I have no idea why we are having this discussion about Fletcher.

All in all, this chapter was even more extreme than I could have expected from Grudem.  Even if I’ve made you want to read it for yourself (just to see if it could really be this bad), I will not be held responsible for any concussions from banging your head against the wall.

Those Liberal “Moderates”: Responding to Grudem on Evangelical Feminism & Heresy (Ch. 12)

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

Ch 12.- Tradition Trumps Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put church tradition above the Bible
This was another one of those chapters that leaves one with an intense face-palm impulse.  First of all, Grudem moves away from talking about women and instead is discussing Kevin Giles’ book The Trinity and Subordinationism.  It is related to the women issue because Grudem claims the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, a position Giles believes to be heresy.  However, it’s a little more removed from what we’ve been talking about so far.  Of course, Grudem isn’t making his case about the Trinity here, but rather is complaining about how Giles makes his argument: Giles appeals to tradition.

Giles seems to think that Scripture could be used to support either side, but Scripture properly interpreted supports his own non-subordinationist position.  He takes his cues about how to interpret Scripture from looking at what the church has believed over time.  There is nothing wrong with this, of course—if there’s a complicated issue, it makes sense to consider what Christians have always believed.  They are not guaranteed to be right, but we should at least know why we disagree with them where we do.  (On the issue of women, for instance, I disagree with many Christians throughout history, a fact with which I’m ok.  But I don’t think we should reject tradition without careful study and reasoning.)  Sadly, Grudem resorts to an appeal to the anti-Catholic impulses pervading much of contemporary evangelicalism.

How then does Giles think we should determine which view is right?  The answer, he says, is found in church history: “In relation to the doctrine of the Trinity my argument is that the tradition of the church should prescribe the correct reading.”  For Giles, then, the tradition of the church becomes the surpreme authority.  His approach is similar to Roman Catholicism but contradictory to the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) and contrary to the beliefs of evangelical Protestants.  In fact, I find it somewhat surprising that InterVarsity Press would decide to publish this book.  [There he goes picking at IVP again...]  I am not suprised at this because of the conclusion Giles holds (egalitarianism) but because of the underlying view of authority on which he bases his argument (the superiority of church tradtion, not Scripture, because Scripture can be read in different ways). (117)

This is one of the chapters that really leaves me with little respect for Grudem.  He could make a real argument against Giles’ heremeneutic, but he doesn’t.  Instead he appeals to the prejudice of his readers—a rather low road, in my opinion.  Additionally, he contradicts himself by complaining about appeals to tradition, because Grudem himself has said more than once, “Oh, but nobody has thought women should be pastors until very recently!”  If he is going to appeal to tradition, he shouldn’t castigate others for the same.  (He is not even right, by the way, that women have never been in positions of authority in the church.  Besides the New Testament examples he dismisses, we can appeal to the case of abbesses who ruled over monks and nuns living in the same community, for instance.  Perhaps women in authority have been rare, but they have not been nonexistent.)

Those Liberal “Moderates”: Responding to Grudem on Evangelical Feminism & Heresy (Ch. 10-11)

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

Ch. 10- Does a Pastor’s Authority Trump Scripture?: Some evangelical feminists say that women can teach if they are “under the authority” of the pastor or elders
Well, hooray!  It looks like Grudem and I have once again found a couple things to agree on—in both ch. 10 and 11!  Grudem’s complaint here is that some Christians say that a man does need to be in the official church positions of authority, but as the authority figure he can then allow a woman to preach and teach and whatever else that is normally reserved for a man.  This is an easy way for some to have all the comfort of their traditional views with all the practical benefits of allowing qualified women to teach.  Grudem considers this inconsistent practice, as do I.  Unlike Grudem, I would be glad that women were getting any airtime to begin with… but ultimately, this set-up leaves me unsatisfied.  In fact, in some ways it is really insulting to women—it strikes me as rather patronizing for a woman to always need to be under a man’s authority and seeking a man’s approval.  (Of course, as Grudem notes, anyone teaching in a church is in some way under the authority of the church’s leaders.  If we had true equality, however, we would talk about everyone being accountable to church leadership, rather emphasizing women being under men’s authority.)

I find this a very wussy attempt to include women in the church, and Grudem finds it a wussy attempt to live out complementarian values.   And really that’s what it is: Grudem admits that “many who take this view say they genuinely want to uphold male leadership in the church,” and “this is not a commonly held view among the main egalitarian authors or those who support Christians for Biblical Equality, for example” (103).  It’s funny to me, then, that the chapter title still presents this as something “evangelical feminists” say.  Regardless of what label they ultimately deserve, I see these churches as trying to move forward in a positive direction but just not quite getting it right.  From this point the church can continue to emphasize male authority or women’s gifts, and it’s sort of unpredictable which path they’ll be on twenty years down the road.

Ch. 11- Teaching in the Parachurch?: Some evangelical feminists evade New Testament commands by saying, “We are not a church”
As I already mentioned, I also liked some of what Grudem had to say in this chapter.  He says that while not all parachurch organizations perform all functions of the local church, when parachurch organizations do perform these functions, they should have the same standards as the local church.  Hence, it doesn’t make much sense to say women can teach in parachurch settings if they can’t teach in church settings.  I appreciate this because I wish more parachurch organizations were not so wussy in their support of women.  (An apparent theme of this post: wussiness.)

For example, InterVarsity, which I love, is very pro-women-in-ministry in many ways.  InterVarsity Press publishes many egalitarian books (something Grudem has complained about in multiple chapters already), Urbana uses the TNIV and allows Christians for Biblical Equality to give seminars, and InterVarsity uses women to teach mixed-gender groups and has women at all levels of leadership.  I’ve even heard of a regional leader who tells potential staff that if they aren’t egalitarian they probably won’t enjoy working for IVCF—and hence, while not a technical hiring requirement, complementarian would-be-staff in that region tend to go in other directions (church work, Campus Crusade, etc.).

The thing I appreciate about InterVarsity’s not taking an even more official, more public stand on this issue is that students of various sorts are able to be in fellowship with each other.  Since some of those students wouldn’t have joined an explicitly egalitarian fellowship, InterVarsity’s quietness avoids scaring them off, even though I think ultimately many students find themselves moving in more moderate directions as a result of the teaching they receive from IV staff.  It’s also nice, I know, to not have to alienate the complementarian students and staff already involved in InterVarsity.  And of course, if InterVarsity got too “liberal” a reputation, they would lose some donors—it’s unfortunate that must be a consideration, but funding is a very practical necessity.  The downside, of course, is that things end up more variable on the ground (since no one has made gender equality the priority for the whole organization the way multiethnicity, evangelicalism, or inductive Bible study have been), despite the direction of the national organization.  And that women never feel InterVarsity’s full support.  At least, that is how I felt as a student—like InterVarsity was generally very supportive of me as a woman but too chicken to stand beside me if someone pushed them to declare their views.

All that to say, like Grudem, I think it’s inconsistent to support women in the parachurch while holding onto traditional views—or trying to avoid picking a stance—in the church.  I understand that there is a tension for some parachurch organizations, and that for many of them it might be advantageous to adopt a more gradual approach to this issue.  Maybe if they move in a certain direction without taking a stand, they can ultimately influence more people in an egalitarian direction?  That’s my hope for other groups, too, like the Synergy Women’s Network led by Carolyn Curtis James—a wonderful supporter of women… who, unfortunately, won’t take an official stand on this issue.

Still, I feel unsatisfied.  If we’re all moving towards the same goal, I will try my hardest to be patient, I promise.  But sometimes I wonder if we’re even still moving at all.  Just as I was writing this post, I was struck by a parallel: gradual abolition vs. immediate abolition.  I think I often feel conflicted over whether I can accept the gradual move towards egalitarianism that I see in certain parachurch organizations or if we need to call more loudly for immediate and total change.  I would rather accept gradual movement than scare parachurch organizations away from this issue entirely.  If that’s all they’re willing to do right now, I will try to make peace with that.  But a gradual approach is not really what I want or what feels right—and I fear that without more intentionality and boldness we will never “arrive.”

Continue with this series–read about ch. 12!

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012