October 29, 2020

How I Became an… Egalitarian


Update from CM: Comments are now closed.

Update from Mike Bell: I was so disappointed with the tone and tenor of the comments, that rather than sifting through them and finding the few that actually interacted with the content of the post and contributed to the discussion, I decided to save myself the hours it would take to do that, and deleted them all. My apologies to those who tried to contribute in a positive way. I have limited availability on Fridays so have to hope that those who comment will behave themselves. Unfortunately today this was not the case. I had also hoped that there would have been more interaction with the actual content of the post, but this too was not the case. The commenting section is still open. Feel free to add your voice, but do so in a respectful way, engaging the topic at hand.

• • •

While most of my other “How I Became” posts have told a story, this week I want to focus on one particular part of my journey into egalitarianism. This week we have been talking about the creation story, and this creation story has played a significant role in my taking on the egalitarian views that I have.

First a quick definition. For me, egalitarianism as it relates to the church is that individuals are given roles and responsibilities based on giftedness rather than gender.

I had grown up in a church that was complementarian. Through my journey I have learned that both complementarians and egalitarians have compelling and persuasive arguments. If one was to only read Paul, one might likely conclude that the creation story teaches that male headship. But, when I took a look at the creation story itself, a different picture began to emerge.

I found that I wasn’t alone in my thinking on the topic. Several years later I found this statement by the group Christians for Biblical Authority, and I found it mirrored many of my own thoughts.

1. The Bible teaches that both man and woman were created in God’s image, had a direct relationship with God, and shared jointly the responsibilities of bearing and rearing children and having dominion over the created order (Gen 1:26–28).

2. The Bible teaches that woman and man were created for full and equal partnership. The word “helper” (ezer ) used to designate woman in Genesis 2:18 refers to God in most instances of Old Testament usage (e.g. I Sam 7:12; Ps 121:1–2). Consequently the word conveys no implication whatsoever of female subordination or inferiority.

3. The Bible teaches that the forming of woman from man demonstrates the fundamental unity and equality of human beings (Gen 2:21–23). In Genesis 2:18, 20 the word “suitable” (kenegdo) denotes equality and adequacy.

4. The Bible teaches that man and woman were co-participants in the Fall: Adam was no less culpable than Eve (Gen 3:6; Rom 5:12–21; I Cor 15:21–22).

5. The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order. Genesis 3:16 is a prediction of the effects of the Fall rather than a prescription of God’s ideal order.

Christians for Biblical Equality

I remember having a conversation with a complementarian friend about this a number of years ago. “Ah,” he said, “but do you realize that Adam named Eve, like they both named the animals, showing his authority over her?” “Yes,” I replied, “but did you realize that he only did so after the fall? In fact the naming of Eve is immediately following the curses of Genesis 3.”

In my mind, male headship is not part of God’s creation plan. When men and women, husbands and wives are walking in God’s will, the question is not is it his way or her way, but is it God’s way. Paul seems to only pull out the headship trump card when thinks are going badly and when specific situations need to be dealt with. In a church like Philippi, he talks not of headship but of servanthood and humility. In his letters to the Galations he proclaims: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I could go on at length about why I favor egalitarianism over complementarianism. The arguments on either side have filled many books. For me it has come down to three things.

1. I believe that Paul’s commands were specifically addressed to deal with problem situations. For example, the fact that Ephesus was the location of the Goddess Artemis, and the influences that that would have had on the church, really helps to explain why he had to lay down the hammer in that region.

2. I believe that there is continuum in scripture between the fallen state of Genesis 3:16 (“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”) and Galations 3:28 (“nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”)

3. Ephesians 4:1 urges us to “live a life worthy of the [heavenly] calling you have received.” My goal then is not to live according to the fallen state, but to live as a member of Christ’s kingdom, where there is neither male nor female. When you look at the ideal that Paul lays out in Ephesians 4, this is not an ideal of hierarchy, but an ideal of humbleness and unity in Christ.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)


  1. Klasie Kraalogies says

    Let’s try again then: I wonder if the problem is not often that while people are often willing to consider the historic context of scripture in other matters (cosmology – earth standing still etc; OT violence – Peter Enns writes a lot about this; and many more), they shy away from considering that egalitarianism would have been extremely foreign to 1st century Roman/Greek/Aramaic/Jewish culture. But still, the place given to women even then was very liberating given those circumstances – doesn’t that say something? [Moderator – Edited for inflammatory content]

  2. I don’t know if it’s possible to determine the early Church’s level of egalitarianism, or lack thereof. And I don’t know if it’s possible to prove egalitarianism from the scriptures. But I believe that the same Spirit that moved the early Church to write its imperfect, though inspired, scriptures, and to form its imperfect, though sustaining, traditions, now calls the Church to recognize, and facilitate in its life, the equal dignity of all its members before their Lord, and their brothers and sisters. I don’t believe we are bound by the letter of either the scriptures or traditions, but called by the Spirit.

    If, as a result, some call me a progressive, and question my orthodoxy (or further question my orthodoxy), so be it. To miss this opportunity, this opening of the Spirit, by slavish loyalty to the past is (in my opinion) more likely to put one on the wrong side of God’s will than to accept it as a movement of liberating grace in our midst.

    • Interesting how something is a “move of the spirit” when it lines up with contemporary ideals, especially in a way that the authorship of Scripture could not have been such a “move.” Personally, I’m done with fine tuning my antenna to catch the latest “message.”

      Robert, you are a very orthodox progressive. 😉 This idea, however, that the Spirit continues to speak to us today and provide new revelation, either correcting or redefining previous revelation, is called “enthusiasm.” Luther said of them: “They have swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all!”

      • You may call it whatever you think appropriate, but there are many who agree with me, even in the most conservative Christian bodies, including your own, I daresay, and we’re here to stay, as well as growing in numbers.

      • Btw, your definition of “enthusiasm” would have to include the Roman Catholic Church, since it asserts that the Holy Spirit guides the Church into new understanding of the original deposit of faith, which for all logical intents and purposes is indistinguishable from new, correcting and redefining revelation.

        • Right. Enthusiasm is very common and wide-spread, kind of an inter-denominational characteristic, rather than a tradition of its own. I was raised to be a good enthusiast. I quit when I was honest enough to admit to myself that I wasn’t hearing anything from God. Yes, the Pope is in some ways the ultimate enthusiast, and I would wager that you don’t accept his claims to speak directly for God with infallibility. We shouldn’t make ourselves our own personal Popes either.

          I don’t expect enthusiasm to disappear anytime soon. I just recently subbed as the organist for a service where the LCMS pastor spent his entire sermon teaching a large batch of confirmands how to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit giving them specific instructions. I thought to myself, “Congratulations, you’ve just graduated a bunch of atheists.” They’re gonna follow his instructions, which I grew up hearing and never found to work, and when they conclude the preacher was wrong about this, few of them will have the discernment to distinguish it from the rest of the religion he was trying to pass on to them.

          Enthusiasm received a surge of popularity with the radical reformation, whose ideas united with English puritans to produce the Baptists, who today form the backbone of Evangelicalism, and receive fresh winds of support in this teaching from the charismatic movement. So be it. As long as they are able to continue believing in Jesus, live and let live. I’ve just seen it destroy the faith of too many, and for me, enthusiasm was one of the definitive hallmarks of Evangelicalism that I sought to leave behind.

          As far as I know, confessional Lutheranism is the only tradition to formally label this idea, and to explicitly reject it. Just don’t expect us to be incredibly consistent on that one. I serve a congregation full of enthusiasts who are well catechized in their spirituality from the pop-American Evangelical subculture. They are lovely people with hearts of gold, who occasionally believe some rather silly things. I’m not gonna claim to have absolutely perfect beliefs on every issue, I don’t think any human can ever rightly claim that, but my Sola Scriptura convictions drive me to submit all my beliefs to the authority of the text, which honestly, doesn’t always make sense to me. But it does remove a ton of guess work and proverbial chicken entrails from the discernment process.

          • Additionally, enthusiasm kind of renders debates over hermeneutics rather pointless. At some point, a person backed into a corner takes the spiritual offramp: “Ok, so the text does say that, but now that it doesn’t agree with me, I think it’s wrong, the Spirit is leading us otherwise today.”

          • Okay. You make good points, but they all rest on a view of Biblical authority that I cannot accept. They also install those very chicken entrails, along with the enthusiasm that attends them in however muted a form, right in the text of the scriptures, by making the scriptures solve problems and answer questions that they cannot. In doing so, it seems to me that you believe you are safe from making certain kinds of “fatal” mistakes regarding what the will of God is for us at this moment, but I think you are mistaken.

          • Robert, if you cannot accept that view of Biblical authority, by what other view does the Bible have any authority whatsoever? If it is constantly subject to my critical review, then I cannot see how it has any value at all.

            This absolutely does not make scripture solve problems and answer questions it cannot. It is not the exhaustive encyclopedia of all truth. It is simply the message of the Gospel, and authoritative on the related articles of doctrine it directly addresses.

            And I most certainly do NOT put myself, through this belief, in the category of unable to mistake the will of God. There is a difference between saying “the text is true” and “I cannot misunderstand the text.” If that’s what you’re hearing from me, I certainly hope you object.

            I’m saying that the text is the starting point and the ultimate end for our discussion of what the Spirit is saying. It is objective, external, and consistent, giving us a common basis for discerning God’s will apart from our personal subjective influences, even if those tend to interfere with our listening. If we do not have something outside of us to which we can appeal, even if it is something we can misread, then we’re down to asserting contradictory opinions as mutually valid, and whoever wins the shouting match is right.

            It seems to me that the choices are either Sola Scriptura (even if it doesn’t always produce the same results from everyone) or will to power. With the first, people who disagree can at least sit at the table and talk about it, because both value the voice of God as He has spoken on the subject, and can have the humility to listen to each other’s understanding. If the Spirit speaks directly to me, then suddenly I become infallible, and how dare you object! The Scriptures are the great equalizer when it comes to hearing from God: He doesn’t tell you one thing, and me another.

          • @Miguel…..you left out a third option regarding scripture, which is the Roman Catholic view of Scripture being enlightened and clarified by tradition and authority. Understand totally that it is not your ball of wax, but it is quite valid and the bedrock of Faith for many of us.

            I would like to add that the RC Church also fully supports the equal value of both genders, and the calls they may receive. The fact that only men may become priests has to do with Christ’s personal choices and example, not misogyny.

          • Miguel, i am wondering if your grounds for “definitive interpretation” is in the Book of Concord? While i agree that it contains very important documents, ISTM that the historical and cultural context of the writers (and of what they wrote) absolutely must be taken into consideration. Their world was like ours in many ways, but incredibly unlike in others. People can speak to what they see in their own time, very much including typical social order, but they would be stunned at how non-hierarchical our world is (in this country and some others) compared to their own.

            Being here for a while might cause some rethinking – not of the centrality of yhe Gospel, but about society, very much including the ways in which mandatory public education for all children have changed society. Once you get people in school, they learn, and one thing we have learned over the padt 150+ years is that men and women are more equal than anyone but a few in Luther’s day could ever have imagined possible.

            Christ is a constant; if we don’t keep asking questions about how to treat othe as he would, we might as well give up.

          • Miguel, you make it sound as if the only choice away from the texts limitations is one of fanaticism. What if one were to find the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in community, rather than in isolated revelations? What if one were to say, “It SEEMED good to the Holy Spirit and US….”

          • @Miguel,

            “I’m saying that the text is the starting point and the ultimate end for our discussion of what the Spirit is saying. It is objective, external, and consistent, giving us a common basis for discerning God’s will apart from our personal subjective influences, even if those tend to interfere with our listening. If we do not have something outside of us to which we can appeal, even if it is something we can misread, then we’re down to asserting contradictory opinions as mutually valid, and whoever wins the shouting match is right. ”

            If what you say is true, there nevertheless was a point back in history when there was no objective, external and consistent foundation, and when revelation necessarily was personal and all mixed up with somebody’s (or many somebody’s) personal subjective influences, and these somebodies had only their own personal experience of God revealing himself to them to go on. Why is it that this genesis of scripture in past “enthusiasm” and personal experience of those to whom revelation occurred is acceptable to you, but something similar happening in the present is not? Somebody somewhere had to have a human experience of divine revelation with nothing to test it against, someone had to be at the beginning, and for somebody it had to be about personal experience; why do you trust them to have gotten it right, but not yourself? And aren’t you in fact trusting yourself by trusting them? I could be wrong, but isn’t there something of shell game going on here?

          • I am troubled by “the text says,” because there is just no single way to interpret text. Which might predispose me to a more Jewish view, in that even with its flights of imagination, the Midrash seems much closer to how text wasactually handled in Jesus’ day that the watertight claims of many different churches today, per THE Truth (they, and they alone, being the only ones who Have it Right).

            That sure doesn’t leave much room between the events of Jesus’ life and the writing of all the canonical NT letters and books! What do we suppose the earliest church did, since they couldn’t just go “look it up”?

            While i am skeptical of so-called special revelation, either the Holy Spirit is with us today, or he isn’t. I vote for “is,” with Jesus’ own proviso that the wind blows where it wills.

          • Robert, apologies for piggybacking on what you had already said, though i felt a need to set up my 2nd and 3d graphs.

          • I also think there is, in the view Miguel subscribes to, an understandable overreaction (by what became the LCMS here) to early 19th c. pietism in Germany as well as in some other predominantly Lutheran countries. But i think it calls for some course correction on the LCMS’ part, these days.

            Miguel, i find it interesting that you cite *English baptists* in the early modern period, if only because many of the German, Swiss and Dutch immigrants who settled in my part of the Mid-Atlantic states were Anabaptists – all kinds of Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, Brethren in Christ and Amish Mennonites (followers of a breakaway sect started by one Jacob Amman). They’ve been here practically since Penn got the charter, and were/are more influential in this part of the East than English baptists! (Not to mention Presybyterians and Methodists, who are largely descended from Scots who had settled in Ulster a few centuries ago.) There are some Episcopalians, but they were never the power that they wrre in VA, because PA, NJ, and DE were colonized bu middle and lower class people. The aristocracy who came to VA were hardcore C of E.

            Of course, in my state, the majority of early German settlers were Lutheran. There was a 2nd wave of German immigration here in the mid-19th c. (bringing both Catholics and Protestants), but most of us have ancestors who came before the Revolution.

            Your part of the Midwest is one thing, while other parts of the country are very difgerent one from another, even now. Evangelicalism is *still* a latecomer in these parts, and there are very few evangelical churches, though in the major cities, the opposite is true.

          • @Miguel,

            It seems to me that if personal experience is rejected as a means of revelation in the present, then the foundational personal revelatory experiences of the authors of scripture must somehow be bracketed and separated from subsequent experiences of others throughout history and shown to be different (this is what the canon does); then, this bracketing and separating must be justified as somehow different from all subsequent revelatory experience, AND THIS SEPARATING AND BRACKETING MUST BE DONE WITHOUT FINDING ITS OWN AUTHORITY TO DO SO IN ANY NEW REVELATORY EXPERIENCE. How is this possible?

      • Sorry Miguel. The Holy Spirit still speaks today. The sign gifts of the Spirit are for today. The gifts of the Spirit are just as needed today as in yesteryear. God is the same yesterday,today, and tomorrow. I know most here will disagree, but that’s what real dialogue is for. Not personal attacks like yesterday I’m so glad I stayed out of that. Maybe the Holy Spirit had warned me

        • If God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow then why isn’t there still a Levitical Priesthood? Right, because what you referred to has to do with his person and not his work among his people which has had drastic changes in protocols though with the same unchanging God. One of the other best illustrations are the building gifts given to construct the tabernacle by God’s Spirit which were limited scope, purpose thus, duration. Your argument fails even the mist basic test for proscription.

  3. What I said yesterday.

    Jesus became human. Jesus took on human nature. Jesus died for human sin. Jesus rose from the grave as the new human/new creation. All who are born again by the Spirit are members of his body. All of them hold fast to the same head. All of them receive gifts/charisms from the Spirit. All of them as members of the same body function in the body to build up the body as the gifts that the Spirit distributes to them operate in love. All of them are icons of Christ and are being transformed into that same image from glory to glory. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for they are all one in Christ Jesus, and are all sons/children of God and Abraham’s heirs as recipients of the promised Spirit. Old things have passed away, all things have become new.

    To impose upon that the androcratic hierarchicalism and gender-restrictionism of the old covenant and the world is regressive and contrary to the Gospel of the Kingdom.

    • May be one reason for the delay of the parousia is the church’s repression and restriction of the operation of the Spirit and his giftings among half of the members of the body and/or its “traditional” teaching that those members can’t function in certain ways because of their gender – ways which are in no way dependent on gender to function to build up the body of Christ.

  4. Let the one who will listen hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

  5. On CBE’s point 4: Yes, but: Both ate the apple, and though Eve ate first, the NT seems to consistently blame Adam for the fall of man. It also seems to describe their level of participation differently. Eve, apparently, was deceived. Adam, however, was not, but rather, made the willful decision to embrace the wrong. Aside from putting an end to all this silly “blame the woman” nonsense, it does seem to make Adam MORE responsible. Not sure how that connects to the issue of women’s ordination, though.

    • Paul does connect it to women’s ordination, though, citing it as the reason he does “not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” in 1 Timothy. I understand this passage to be assigning the responsibility to the men in Timothy’s church, rather than the women, to guard against the willful sin of Adam and to protect those under their care from being deceived. This passage assumes that it is the men in Timothy’s congregation, rather than the women, who are capable of this, which was largely true in Paul’s day because women did not have the same opportunity to be educated that men did. To place women in positions of authority in the early church would have been to put the cart before the horse. Unfortunately, the first Christians did not have the resources to begin a program of education for women (they were to busy trying to survive), and in the medieval church, cultural misogyny regrettably became a greater influence on the church’s treatment of women than Scripture.

      • Because Peter was soooo educated, right? Ugh.

        • Exceptions do not disprove the rule

          • The rule hasn’t been established and if something contrary to an asserted rule exists then it begs apologies for the rule which are non-existent above and for the exception (which does not stand alone just with the Twelve never minding the rest of the “early church” and beyond), which are both wanting in the claim above.

      • The tradtional interpretation of the 1 Timothy passage is problematic in so many ways.

        1. If I say “I am not walking” most people would not interpret that to mean that I will never walk anywhere. Yet when Paul says “I am not permitting” (the Greek is the negative of the first person singular present tense) we somehow end up understanding this to apply for all time in all places?

        2. Acts 19 gives context to the situation in Ephesus. Ephesus is the center for worship of the Goddess Artemis. Reading the book: “Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus: A Study of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in Light of the Religious and Cultural Milieu of the First Century” was an eye opener for me because it helps explain why the church was having such difficulties in that region.. (Not sure it is still in print)

        3. This study of the passage by Dr. Franklin Pyles also helped my understand the passage in a new light.. It is relevant to the post because it does address the Adam and Eve question.

        • Well now, it’s Ephesian Artemis – a fertility goddess. So very different from the Artemis of Greek mythology, the virgin goddess of the hunt.

  6. On CBE point 2: How can “ezer” mean “full and equal partnership” if it is used primarily for God’s assistance to man? There is nothing full and equal about that relationship. It seems, rather than implying inferiority, to indicate infinite superiority! Again, this argument favors women immensely, but again, not sure if it connects to pastoral ministry.

  7. One more thought, Mike: If male headship is not part of God’s plan, how then is marriage an image of Christ and the church?

    • It is a mutual giving and loving, not a case of power and dominance. Christ is the Bridegroom who loves His Spouse more than his own body or life, and is willing to lay down His life to protect her. Does that sound like “being the Boss” of a marriage to YOU?

      • You are right but also conveniently ignore volumes of Scripture commanding us to obey Christ. Your relegating with over-dramatization the role of authority to being subjugated to a boss simply undermines your credibility and willingness to speak seriously.

        While Christ did and does what you say, he is also presented as our head, our authority and whose words we are to obey. That all seemed to escape your very narrow and selective theology about Christ’s headship and the marital headship likened to it. All they laying down of lives does not remove the hierarchy.

  8. Again, the context of, “no more male/female” is not anthropological, it is spiritual with respect to the individual priesthood and one’s relationship with and to Christ. Rather immediately following this is the reaffirmation of marital hierarchy with respect to the offices of husband and wife. Why? Because marriage, while a divine institution, is an anthropologically based one whose scope and function is for life on earth. It is not a spiritual institution.

    Secondly, where it describes the husband being the head of the wife and Christ is the head of the husband, let me guess, Christ and men are now egalitarian? UGH. Your hermeneutic fails as does the prescription of your isolated interpretation.

    Finally, unsaved married people are not, “in Christ” thus, they cannot qualify for Christian marital/ecclesiastical egalitarianism per your own qualification that when one becomes “in Christ” they are removed from the marital hierarchical curse brought upon them from sin (*according to your theory). So what about them? Your theory fails them completely.

    Maybe you mean you are egalitarian with respect to Christian marriages but then you still have the Ephesians passage which debunks this. Your view has gaping holes even with the most basic use of logic.

  9. Galatians 3:28 is not so much about one’s individual spiritual whatever as it is a declaration of the nature of the body of Christ, the New Human/New Creation, a living embodiment and fulfillment of the promise of Acts 2:16-18.

  10. Eric

    Which is precisely what “spiritual” is whether collectively or individually.

  11. What a shame you had to delete so much Mike. So much struggling “in the flesh.” Your basic premise is sound. But trying to reconcile modern anti-male feminist thought with fundamentalist anti-female beliefs simply does not work. And scripture is neither a blueprint to be followed thoughtlessly nor good advice to toss aside when it says something inconvenient.

  12. What a shame that you had to delete so much Mike. Your basic premise is sound. Unfortunately, modern feminist anti-male thought and fundamentalist anti-female beliefs can not be reconciled. And scripture is neither a rigid blueprint to be followed thoughtlessly nor simply good advise to be tossed aside when it says something inconvenient.

  13. Klasie Kraalogies says

    Miguel, your arguments with Robert here illustrates what I tried to point out in my comment in the beginning: We always interper what we read. There is a Biblical cosmology which we can learn from typologically, but which obviously doesn’t correspond to the real world. There is good evidence, as shown by Enns etc, that OT slaughtering of enemies is more a mark of the culture of the times than the nature of the Divine. So why can’t “Biblical authority ” in terms of gender also be viewed liked that? Why won’t anybody address that question, which, imho, lies at the heart of the controversy here.

    Note: No aggression, heat or enmity intended. I am genuinely perplexed.

    • I am genuinely perplexed.

      As am I – and, I suspect, a *lot* of other folks out here.

      • What is the consensus definitation of “biblical authority”? I ask as a question in earnest. I’m not up for crap, just dialogue so as to answer Numos question

        • Klasie Kraalogies says

          OP – as HUG would say – the consensus is whatever my reading is. If your reading is different, then you are misunderstanding at best, or rebelling (most likely) against it.. 🙂

          But that is exactly the problem. A lot happens between the page and the brain. Which is my point exactly.

    • Klasie, there is no reason we can’t do those things. Robert wasn’t arguing hermeneutics with me, he was arguing enthusiasm and Biblical authority. I am not, now or ever, denying that everything read in Scripture is interpreted. I even believe that apart from the Holy Spirit it is impossible to rightly understand the Scriptures, and when he gives this gift, through or in spite of our hermeneutical constructs, it is called “illumination.”

      If people like Enns want to argue interpretation, that is fine, even if they appeal to other authorities, so long as our common ground is that the Scriptures are the final authority. I’m all for contrasting our interpretations to sharpen our understanding of the text. But when the Spirit begins speaking to us with equal authority apart from the text, then all bets are off, and God is apparently changing his mind about all kinds of stuff while only letting a select few in on the details. I can’t go there. Don’t mind if you do, so long as you don’t wander too far, but it destroys the basis for ecumenical discussion on my end. The Scriptures are the voice of God speaking to us in text form, as the Sacraments are in visible form and Jesus is in human form.

      It is unfair to characterize anyone insisting on sola Scriptura and Biblical authority to be so narrow minded that they cannot separate the text and their interpretation. It is a bogus straw man, period. But just because we all interpret what we read, it doesn’t necessarily follow that all interpretations are equally valid. When two mutually exclusive reads confront, at least one is necessarily wrong. I believe it is actually possible to understand the text, simply by virtue of the fact that God chose the medium to communicate with us, and He is not incompetent. Our incompetence certainly impedes at time, but respectful debate from a mutual submission to the text is, imo, a productive way to work past that. The Holy Spirit has certainly used that to teach me a thing or two.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        Miguel, but you still miss the essential point though: “sola Scriptura”, and “Scripture as final authority” still has the end result that it makes you as interpreter, or me as interpreter, the Final authority, the real Sola. The Text doesn’t live or speak by itself. Man doesn’t come (or, to fit the discussion, human beings don’t come..) to the text tabula rasa. And neither can we assume that the text came to the ancient writers in the same form, like Joseph Smith claims for his fantasy book. These clear facts have humongous consequences. It means that Scripture sits within the greater web of human experience and knowledge and interacts with it.

        • Barth asserted that scripture is a completely human witness and word that God accommodates to his revelation by inspiring it to speak his Word through the work of the Holy Spirit. The text is dead in and of itself, nor is it God’s Word of itself.

    • As far as your specific interpretation of the gender related issues is the case, I’m not saying that is necessarily out of bounds. I find such hermeneutical devices to be lacking and not compelling, especially since they neuter the potential of any ancient document to speak any truth to power in our age. It looks far more like eisegesis than a fair summary of the text, and it assumes not only that we know better than the authors, but it emphasizes the human agency in the inspiration of Scriptures nearly to the exclusion of the divine element.

      I like to compare the inspiration of Scripture to the incarnation (written word to incarnate word). Just as Jesus was fully divine AND fully human, yet without sin, people in my tribe generally view the Bible as somehow mysteriously penned by God himself AND the human agents, yet without either nature impeding the other. The human did not supersede mistakes onto the divine authorship, and God worked through the distinctives of the individual human authors to get his message across without overriding their personhood. Accusing Paul of being patriarchal to the point of completely missing the Gospel when it comes to pastoral ministry places his fallen nature over and against the divine inspiration in the text. I have a problem with that.

      Hope that makes sense!

      • It seems strange to me that you assign to the Bible the same moral perfection that doctrine traditionally assigns to Jesus Christ alone. Are there then two incarnations of God, one the living flesh of Jesus Christ, the other the canonical scriptures? How does such a theory not undermine the uniqueness of Jesus Christ’s incarnation?

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      So why can’t “Biblical authority ” in terms of gender also be viewed liked that? Why won’t anybody address that question, which, imho, lies at the heart of the controversy here.
      Well, that is a good question. For starters, there are many – I would say the majority of evangelicals – who believe that the genocide passages are a legitimate expression of the Divine. I tend to think they are simply because the Bible also has God bar up the way to eternal life from humans, thus ensuring heir death, wiping out Sodom and the cities of the plain, and of course, that whole Noah’s flood thing. God kills people with alarming regularity throughout the Scriptures, and allows us to kill each other with alarming frequency to this day.

      However, if we grant your point, one response might be that the complementarian position is ontologically and anthropologically rooted in God’s choice to create mankind male and female, whereas God never chose to create war or murder. I suspect, however, that if your point stands the real next step would be a “religionless Christianity” in which ethics are self-determined and Christianity shrinks to salvation alone. Which, you know, actually sounds awfully familiar.

    • “There is a Biblical cosmology which we can learn from typologically, but which obviously doesn’t correspond to the real world. There is good evidence, as shown by Enns etc, that OT slaughtering of enemies is more a mark of the culture of the times than the nature of the Divine. So why can’t “Biblical authority ” in terms of gender also be viewed liked that? Why won’t anybody address that question, which, imho, lies at the heart of the controversy here.”

      Klasie, the first time you asked this question, you included a statement (now redacted) that suggesting that there could be a pressure on the conversation that is non-theological. You made the mistake of framing it as an accusation, and something like ‘do you just want to keep your privilege?’ That framing isn’t helpful; nonetheless, I think you were trying to put your finger on a rather big elephant that is actually in the room.

      I am going to suggest there are, in fact, non-theological pressures that help to share the controversy–and particularly the importance assigned to it.

      The outside pressure is the importance of “gender” to individuals and communities. Rather than try to sum up how gender ‘matters’ and what it ‘is,’ before ingesting my morning coffee, I am instead cheating and will quote historian Nancy Cott:

      “Human understandings of sexual difference — the many and various ways that the existence of male and female is figured in social relationships, beliefs, practices, and institutions — this is gender.”

      Gender matters because gender is integral to social organization and identity, and (being constructed by human discourse, activities, and institutions). It is malleable and shifting, because it is highly contingent on those activities, practices, and institutions. It also is present, in both overt and less obvious ways, in how people construct their view of society and themselves. As a result, there tend to be a lot of fireworks whenever conflicting constructions of gender are in obvious conflict, or anytime gender is undergoing relatively fast change.

      Gender does not ‘explain’ the content of someone’s approach to Scripture or tradition. These arguments have a logical power, appeal, and causality of their own. When someone says their main concern is fidelity to Scripture, and they are worried about a crisis of authority, there is no reason to doubt they are telling the truth.

      However, gender does help to explain this: Why, when there are many issues of textual interpretation that could provoke a sense of crisis about authority, do questions related to gender roles and sex emerge as the ‘important’ issues, worthy of controversy? Why have they become not merely big issues (which they are), but the very tests of whether Biblical authority or tradition stands or falls, and of who is faithful and trustworthy? Why have they emerged as the litmus tests of orthodoxy itself (in practice, if not officially)? The fault lines in the current American religious landscape are not much related to doctrine; they relate almost entirely to issues of sex and how ‘authority’ in various forms is challenged by it. As one of Thursday’s deleted comments illustrated, people are quite willing to lump disparate groups together as being all similar, on the basis of this issue alone. It eclipses the Reformation controversies or any issue outlined in the creeds.

      Again, I do NOT think the conversation is reducible to anything like “anxiety of gender.” However, if we recognize that this factor is in play, it can help us to understand the conversation better.

      • Since I’ve mentioned gender:

        Since gender is malleable, your suggestion that we look at it within historical context is well taken.

        It is not necessarily a problem precisely like that of killing in the Old Testament or verses that take ancient cosmology for granted. Each of these questions involves unique problems. For example, I’d say a verse about a ‘filament in the heavens’ is simply assuming a scientific description that is inaccurate. By contrast, A Pauline text addressing gender is talking about a social reality that existed. The question then becomes what is being said, and why? And then: what does this mean for us today?

        As Miguel often puts it, a concern about this approach can be, “Aren’t you neutered the text’s ability to speak?”

        My reply would be that one runs equal risk of neutering the text if one doesn’t apply it our contemporary situation in a manner that brings the message of the text to bear. Frankly, my concern is that if we don’t address the core meanings of the texts to our current problems, in such a way that it is relevant and speaks the message into our lives, then it is neutered. If I interpret in a way that harms or that heaps ire on what is good, something worse occurs. My contemporary will shrug me off; he will be right to do this.

        There are many good questions here, and some of us are going to clash. But the questions are good ones.

  14. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

    Forget about it. If I wanted a moderator to randomly delete comments at his will, I’d be reading The Gospel Coalition.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      Dr Fundystan, I was dismayed too, but I understand why he did it. It just got too ugly yesterday. I did think think editing my comment this morning was a bit over the top, but this is not my blog, and I don’t make the rules. I accept them. I appreciate the general civil tenor around here – I recently left a blog where I was part of a “commenting community for 7 years”, precisely because it got too out of hand, and there was no guidance from the owner.

    • What would have rather I done? Spend three hours trying to filter through and delete only the ones I didn’t like, or show no favoritism and delete them all. Quite frankly the ones that I was most dismayed and deleting were the ones most critical of the original post, because at least they engaged the post.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        Sorry, Mike – given my background in fundamentalism, I have a very strong reaction to censorship of any type. Thanks for trying to keep this space civil. I do hope this won’t become a regular habit though 🙁

      • I think the decision was wise. Tempers were too high. If you had selectively deleted comments, then your choices could have inspired scrutiny and charges that you were playing partisan.

        Sometimes, you just have to make an executive decision.

    • Michael S. used to delete comments and ban commenters at will. I used to think he was kind of prickly, even thin-skinned, but I have come to appreciate what his method did. The comments section ended up being a pretty civil place,

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        I remember that. The laissez faire attitude to blog comments always leads to anarchy – recently Peter Enns switched to full moderation. It is a sad fact.

        • I don’t see how it’s possible to avoid occasional deletions, bans, putting comments into moderation and the like. Sometimes moderators are truly stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, with no solutions that are truly fair or just.

          So i sympathize with Mike and the dilemma he faced. His solution might not have been the single best one, but i do understand his readoning – which he was gracious enough to explain. The thread degenerated into a slanging match far too quickly, and i am glad that some of my own comments are gone. (Not all, though i did get off-track and into the personal stuff, and i am glad it’s gone.)

    • Sometimes a bit over the top can go a ways to re-establishing decency and order. It takes work to keep an online community like this alive, and sometimes the best way to foster vibrancy might seem a tad bit grey. I ain’t gonna fault a guy for trying. Mike certainly isn’t the type to censor dissent. He is quite the paragon of tolerance, in the best of all possible ways.

  15. Michael Bell:

    When you decide to hazard another flame war by posting on “How I Became an… LGBT Ally” you can offer this thought-provoking speech by David Gushee as the discussion starter 🙂 http://youtu.be/G2o3ZGwzZvk