Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Woman’s Place: An Introduction (Part Two)

So, I hear you ask, after all this whinging about your ‘God and women and the Bible’ questions, do you actually have a plan to try to find some answers?? I do, my friend, I do, and here it is: I have a pile of books for reading and/or reflecting, and I plan to use this blog to think “out loud” through this process.

My husband recently stumbled across the blog of Canadian professor John Stackhouse, who just so happened to have written an article for a book called How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership (edited by Alan Johnson), in which he referred to his own book, Finally Feminist. And so my reading began! After years of sitting uncomfortably on the complementarian side of the gender debate simply because I thought it was the only option for evangelical Christians, it has been unspeakably liberating to find that this is not in fact the case.

I say ‘unspeakably’ because I have no adequate words to describe how it’s felt to find so many other people – intelligent, godly, evangelical people - ask the same questions and raise the same concerns that I have. Hearing a (male) Biblical scholar say of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, “it struck me with paradigm-shaking force that no one could explain all the clauses in this passage with full plausibility” (Stackhouse in Finally Feminist, page 23), is as refreshing and comforting as a hot shower and your own bed after a week away on camp.

So far I’ve read the two books mentioned above, as well as Gilbert Bilezikian’s Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family. I’ve also started on The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight, which (I was pleasantly surprised to discover!) has a section at the end on women in church ministries today. At the moment I’m concentrating on the egalitarian side of the argument for the reason given above: I have been taught complementarianism as if it was the only option since my new birth, and I’m still very much enjoying exploring this strange, exciting and surprisingly large new world of thought.

However, my husband, in an effort to balance my lopsided study, has ordered that I read an article by the feminist Phyllis Trible on ‘Feminist Biblical Interpretation’ and complementarian Wayne Grudem’s chapter on women in his Systematic Theology, and I, like a good, submissive wife, plan to obey him when I feel up for the challenge (I get nervous butterflies thinking about the Grudem chapter in particular).

I’ve admitted that complementarianism makes me uncomfortable, and should acknowledge now that I know it’s dangerous to approach any research with a pre-existing bias. I’d like to think that being aware of this will help me to be somewhat more open-minded as I read these books. If it’s any comfort I’m also sceptical by nature and I find it difficult to read pro-complementarian arguments by males and pro-egalitarian arguments by females; I tend to accuse the men of thinking their way because they like being in charge, and the women of finding loopholes in what the Bible says because they don’t like submitting (it’s silly, but it’s true). Having said that, I’ll confess now that it’s probable I’ll be more forgiving of any issues with egalitarian arguments (“Hmmm, not sure I completely agree with that...”) than with those of the complementarian party (“How dare you say that, Mr Grudem!! You have no idea what it’s like to be a woman!”).

Before I start reviewing and reflecting on any of these, I feel like I should also explain that these are not questions overflowing from an argumentative and rebellious spirit. As Ruth Haley Barton puts it in her article in How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership (page 40), they are “questions rung from the heart of a daughter to her heavenly Father”, searching for her identity and looking for His validation in order to serve Him joyfully and effectively all the days of her life.

Hi ho, hi ho...

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