Sunday, February 26, 2006

Whatever became of Asbury?

When I finished studying at Southern Wesleyan University in the late 80's, there was never any question where I would go to seminary. I had a brother-in-law finishing up at Asbury who graduated from IWU. Another brother-in-law who grew up in the Wesleyan Church of the Philippines finished the year before him. I guess I would sum up the seminary situation of the Wesleyan Church at the end of the 80's in three points:

1. Most Wesleyans did not go to seminary. Indeed, many viewed seminary education with suspicion.

2. Those that did go to seminary mostly went to Asbury. Those who went elsewhere often did so for geographical reasons.

3. Asbury courted Wesleyans and Free Methodists (President McKenna in the 80's actually was FM) and hired significantly from this pool (e.g., the Bible department of that decade included David Bauer, a FM, David Thompson and Joe Dongell, both Wesleyans).

Now flash forward to today. The situation is not the same. Again, three points:

1. An increasing number of Wesleyans are going to seminary. Many dream of even teaching somewhere one day and recognize they will need a doctorate to do it.

2. I haven't collected the data, but I would be surprised if Asbury is catching even the majority of those going to seminary from our colleges. I can name IWU students from these last three or four years alone who have gone to Princeton, Nazarene Theological, Wesley Biblical, Gordon-Conwell, Azuza Pacific, Fuller, Bethel in Mishawaka, and Duke. If you extend the list back a few more years we could add Wheaton.

Here's the way things seem to stand at IWU at the moment. Our best and brightest have been going to Duke or Princeton. Our Calvinist students go to Gordon-Conwell. But I might mention an email conversation I've been in with a Wesleyan from another college who is considering GC because of its urban opportunities and reputation for detailed exegesis.

Our more conservative students and those who want more intimate contact with professors are increasingly going to Wesley Biblical (which has supplanted Nazarene Theological's bid to be the more "traditional Wesleyan" place to go).

Then a few will feel a call to the West. With David Wright at Azuza, the ads to attract Wesleyans out there have begun. Fuller is also an option for those with a westward call and a more mainstream evangelical (=less Wesleyan) bent.

The conformists still go to Asbury, sometimes with a sense of tradition and duty. It may still hold the largest single percentage, but I bet it isn't 50%.

3. Asbury doesn't feel as much like home as it used to.

Some anecdotal material: One of our best graduates from last year felt disappointed with the academic side of things when he visited Asbury as well as the financial aid package. He took a nearly full ride to Duke instead. Important to note that he remains fully committed to the Wesleyan Church even if he feels rather isolated. Another IWU student took a full ride to Princeton last year, and one of our best from this year will probably be going there as well for similar reasons.

In short, Asbury is failing to impress a good percentage of our best and brightest.

Asbury has become more mainstream Methodist. Now don't get me wrong, I would fit right in there and indeed three profs in our department teach online for Asbury. I am not a "liberal basher" by any means.

Yet it's clear that Asbury is making a move toward Methodism after spending most of its existence on the fringes. It used to have as much or more in common with other Methodist derivatives like the Wesleyans than with mainstream Methodism. But now I would say it is trying to become the mainstream Methodist option (and may even be distancing itself a bit from the Good News movement).

I would say that Asbury has made many of its most recent hires on the basis of scholarship with Asbury tradition itself as a lower priority. I want to make it clear that I view these as good hires--just hires that have moved Asbury more away from than toward the average Wesleyan.

Asbury hasn't done anything wrong... but I don't think it is as familar or as attractive to Wesleyans as perhaps it once was.

Here's my point: The Wesleyan seminary door is open and we're losing a lot of heat.

We have no seminary to call our own. It's not that there's anything specifically wrong with the options that are out there--it's just that none of them are clearly "us." It's just one symptom of the overall identity crisis that the Wesleyan Church has been experiencing these last few years.

Of course a Wesleyan Church seminary would have the potential to address some of these issues. If it was done right, it could help the denomination itself find a focal point of identity. Of course I'd like to see this become a self-fulfilling prophecy: "Indiana Wesleyan Seminary." But I'd be happy wherever it came as long as it adopted something like my three point ethos:

1. Wesleyans are people of the Spirit, started in part as a revivalist movement and pietist in flavor, heart over head, and committed to the sentiment "in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."

2. Wesleyans are Bible-focused people. The Bible is our playground, and every discussion begins with the Bible. Evangelicals feel at home with us because of our focus on the Bible, although we affirm the importance of the Spirit and the Church in its proper appropriation.

3. Wesleyans are Wesley-an. We don't idealize John Wesley, but we sure like a lot of the things he thought. We affirm his optimism of grace that makes it possible for anyone to come to salvation, for individuals to live lives above sin, and for societies to be changed.

How about it, Wesleyans?

Let's remember Ash Wednesday

It seems appropriate to hold an Ash Wednesday service in the Williams Prayer Chapel. I'm going to go ahead and say that I'll lead a service Wednesday at noon in the prayer chapel for anyone interested. Unless I hear other desires, let's do it without communion and it will be a tad bit less than a 30 minute service.

I welcome feedback or substitutions...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Honesty is the Best Policy

By request...

I think honesty is by far the best policy. I won't use the ninth commandment as a proof-text, as I imagine it pictures a court scene where you are bearing witness in a trial of some sort. Indeed, as far as I can tell, an "honest" appraisal of the way the Bible treats Rahab probably sees it honoring her in part for her protecting lie (James 2:25; Heb. 11:31). I think Joshua wants us to consider her lie a virtue in this situation and the NT does not give us any contradiction in its references.

Indeed, if the issue weren't so sensitive, we might conclude fairly quickly that John 7:8 portrays Jesus lying to his brothers about going up to the Feast of Tabernacles. The "more difficult" manuscript reading (which is usually the original) is attested in good manuscripts (e.g., Sinaiticus), yet has Jesus saying, "I'm not going up to the festival."

But then he does.

But there are equally or perhaps even better manuscripts that read as the NIV, "I am not yet going up to the festival" (several witnesses date to around 200). The UBS 3rd edition of the Greek New Testament goes with "not going up" but gives the reading a C, meaning they are really pretty unsure about it.

Not to worry... there are many ways to account for this issue without concluding that Jesus lied.

In the New Testament, we arguably have a greater emphasis on truthfulness than in the OT. For example, Jesus says not to swear at all in Matthew 5. If you are a person whose yes means yes and no means no, then you won't need to swear for people to believe you. James 5 says something similar.

Ephesians 4:25 says, "Therefore, as you put off the lie, let each of you speak truth to your neighbor, for we are members of one another." Colossians 3:9 perhaps gives us a slightly "earlier" version of the same idea: "Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old person with its deeds and you have put on the new person that is renewed to knowledge according to the image of the one who created you." All these statements target truthfulness within the Christian community and imply the idea of loving your neighbor.

A particularly sobering verse is Revelation 21:8, which includes liars among those who will die in the lake of fire. Indeed, these liars surprisingly appear at the end of the list, almost as if they are the climax of the list after the sexually immoral, those who practice magic, and idolaters. How do we account for this fact?

I have a hunch (that I cannot prove--I can only cite my evidence and rationale) that these words are directed especially at Revelation's Christian audience. The immediate context relates to those who will inherit the things of which John speaks. The one who "overcomes" will inherit these things. In contrast, the cowardly, the unbelieving, etc... will not. If this is a tight train of thought, then we can imagine that this list has to do both with the kind of people in the church who will not overcome as well as with those who oppress Christians from the outside. In this context, I doubt that "liars" here has in mind those who go to McDonalds when they said they were going to the college cafeteria (which I think would be a sin nonetheless if you did it intentionally).

So it seems fairly clear that truth in these passages has to do with help rather than harm, while lies have to do with harm rather than help.

And what is the scope of these comments? Are they general comments that apply to the "best policy" or are they Kantian categoricals meant to apply to the most absurd scenario some philosophy professor comes up with. If a Nazi Gestapo comes to your door and asks you if you are hiding Jews in your house (and you are), should you lie or tell the truth. I personally think Jesus would want you to lie to the Nazi, not as an understandable sin, but as the righteous thing to do (with telling the truth possibly being the sin in this situation).

My personal hunch is that these verses aim at the default universal policy and that they fall under the category of loving your neighbor as yourself. Make no mistake, my sense of this scope is not meant to give godlike authority to individuals over truth. It is definitely no allowance for the hiding of sin or for selfish ends. Indeed, I would say that our default should be to tell the truth even when it does hurt or wound.

But, for one consideration, I suspect the precision of the truth target differs in size depending on the audience's maturity. When a 3 or 4 year old has no mental ability to comprehend the precise truth, the target is very broad indeed, perhaps even more an emotive than cognitive target.

And what if you are a President and you know things that can't be known--to protect the nation you need to promote motives and perspectives that are somewhat out of focus. I personally would not condemn the President for this or consider it a sin.

This is the territory of grey, and depending on the consequences, the responsibility great. The key is the interplay between three universal principles:

1. God is a God of truth.
2. Humans are human (i.e., in this age prone to sin and ignorance).
3. Love your neighbor as yourself.

These are the rules. The application requires great wisdom in weighing these against each other in particular situations. Wisdom often does not give easy answers, and God sometimes forces us to wrestle with principles in tension with each other. Sometimes God wants the church to buckle down and take responsibility, to work out its salvation with fear and trembling.

Some thoughts from a scribe...

Friday, February 24, 2006

United Arab Emirates

When I bought my first home, Russ Gunsalus and I put in a stairway and converted the attic into a room for the girls. Needless to say, I have not been a very practically minded fellow throughout my life, and my family was curious about my stair adventure to say the least.

When my mother and father visited, my father started to go up the stairs when my mother unthinkingly blurted, "You're not going to go up there, are you?" Regardless of whatever niceties she might say about my handiwork, her subconscious brought forth (not unreasonably) her deeper feelings--I love Kenny, but I'm not sure how much I trust his stairmaking skills.

Now I don't know whether the UAB deal is safe and trustworthy or not. At the very least it's a political fiasco for Bush, whose primary sustenance has been some strange American sense that he can protect us because at least he's bombing somebody. So now he tries to "do the right thing" and stick up for his political allies, not to profile, to do the Christian thing and show confidence in a nation that everyone else suspects because of their location and the color of their skin. Sorry, you weren't elected because of those kinds of Christian values, if indeed that's what they are (there might of course be more worldly factors at play behind the scene). On this issue, I think I'll be "wise as a serpent" and pick the British company.

But I think we are also seeing the true subconscious of the American people again, just as we did with social security. "Go ahead and bomb whoever you want, Bush, especially if their skin is the same color as the people who caused nine eleven. But we really don't trust your judgment when it come to matters here at home."

I think Bush isn't a bad guy (I've shifted in the last few months from my earlier, I think Bush is a good guy, just misguided). He lies a little sometimes, but that's politics, right? His basic intentions are good, I think. But I don't think any of us would really trust him to build us some stairs--no matter what niceties you might say about his handiwork.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Affirmation for Bush

I guess one of Bush's current talking points is on finding alternative fuels. It's pretty late in the game but I'll take it. Sure, he's coming at it from a foreign dependence angle primarily, but I'll take it.

I've never understood (a lie, I think I do understand) why with our propensity for technological advancement we haven't agressively worked to find alternatives to gas and oil. And if for no other reason, I think if the Gulf War leads us away from a gas driven society, it will have been worth it (from the perspective of the greater good for the greater number, not from a standpoint of moral principles).

It's my understanding that the "ambiguous" data on global warming is quickly becoming unambiguous. Last year it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that global weather could not be explained without factoring the effect of these human "inputs." The most recent study of layers of quickly melting ice in Greenland indicates that the current activities are not simply part of the regular ebb and flow of global temperature.

This is not an issue for partisan politics. This is an "if there's even a possibility, prepare" one.

So kudoes to Bush. I'm all for nuclear power (so don't take me to be some liberal parrot). But I'm also for hybrids and stricter emission laws and Kyoto treaties (even if the other nations are hypocrites--that doesn't keep us from being better than they are).

If I'm wrong, you can make fun of me and the world will still be a better place for it.
If you're wrong, sell your apartment in Manhattan because it will be under water in 25 years.

That's why I've been buying up property in Western Nevada.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Schenck Paradox

I've had four classes this Spring where the issue of the text of the Bible was on the syllabus, and the question of the King James debate has come up. I suppose the "confrontation of cultures" between the Islamic and Western world has added to my desire to work against blind irrationalism in Christianity. As I've discovered even Augustine said in the 400's, mistaken beliefs can be harmless and indeed, even beneficial at times. So in general I have not taken a "frontal assault" approach to truth in the Christian religion. Feel free to disagree :)

But while I am happy for the older generations to continue with slightly mistaken understandings (if they are not harmful), I hope the next generation of conservative American Christians will be a little more informed than the last. Not to say that I have it all right. I hope the next generation will correct me on whatever issues I am wrong on. But I think I am fairly clear on what those issues could be. I think I know other issues where to be wrong would be for the very reasoning that leads me to step out of moving traffic would be in question.

So some brief comments on why it is irrational to think that the Greek and Hebrew texts behind the King James are closer to what Paul or some other biblical author wrote than modern editions of the Bible (unless some unprecedented cache of unknown manuscripts and evidence were to surface). Here is one where I believe you will have to turn in your "I'm a good thinker" badge if you persist in such a belief after investigating the evidence.

At the same time, I want to make it clear that the KJV is not a bad text, just not at all likely to be closest to the original text. And let me also say that the KJV is closer to the text the church used for most of its history (400's-1800's). So it must not be a bad textual tradition. You could argue that it is the textual tradition Christians should use for this reason--it is the church's text (or, if you would, the catholic text :).

A Warm Up: 1 John 5:7
This is an easy shot, since there would be other textual situations much more debatable. But KJV only people tend to take an "all or nothing" approach, so if their philosophy doesn't work at one point, then their entire case crumbles.

The NIV of 1 John 5:7 reads like this: There are three that testify.

On the other hand, the KJV reads: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

I wish the KJV was original here, for this would be a great statement of the Trinity! Indeed, it would be the clearest statement on the Trinity in the whole Bible.

And let's make it clear that the overwhelming majority of translators of the modern versions--the NIV, TNIV, NASB, Jerusalem Bible, NLT, ESV, NEB, NAB...--believe in the Trinity. It is completely mistaken to think that modern versions have or don't have various verses because of some lack of faith on the part of the translators. The decisions on how to word or what to include are strictly matters of ancient copies of the text and what they read in conjunction with a few common sense principles that apply to the copying of documents.

And now let me suggest that a book that came out a few years ago--New Age Versions of the Bible--reflects wholesale ignorance and irresponsibility on this topic. It is so off, so consistently, that its humor sometimes brings gladness to my soul...

(like when the author doesn't know that metaphysics is a branch of ancient philosophy and so thinks Hort was a new ager. If I forget for a moment that this book was swallowed up by masses of ignorant fundamentalists, I get a good kick out of reading it. As another example, the NIV is evil because an 1800's textual scholar who had no direct connection to it drank alchohol. This, my friends, is why so many non-Christians think Christians are stupid).

But on a more serious note, this author goes so far as to imply that Alzheimer's disease and other misfortunes on the part of NIV translators was a consequence of their faithless translation. But let's be clear that the NIV translators consistently translated the text more orthodoxly than is actually clear in the Greek original.

Two examples: The NIV translators of Philippians 2:6 translate a Greek phrase "form of God" as "very nature God." This is quite an enhancement of the original statement, reflecting faith in the divinity of Christ. Similarly, the NIV translates "firstborn of all creation" in Colossians 1:15 as "firstborn over all creation." Again, the NIV does this to make it clear that Jesus is not a part of the creation. These two examples are a small indication of the faith of its translators. So anyone who suggested they were trying to "take the blood of Christ" out or anything of that sort is vastly mistaken.

So back to 1 John 5:7. Why don't modern versions have this magnificent trinitarian statement?

For every reason:

1) only eight of the over 5000 Greek copies of the Greek NT have the reading. None of the places where it occurs date before around 1500 (for example, there might be one manuscript from the 1300's where it is written by a seventeenth century hand in the margin). In other words, there is no evidence among the Greek manuscripts for this verse until 1400 years after 1 John was written.

2) the editor of the Greek text behind the KJV (Erasmus) writes in his memoirs that he did not think it was original and only put it in under pressure from Catholic Church officials. By the way, Erasmus was a Roman Catholic humanist who argued against sola scriptura and against Luther's withdrawal from the Catholic Church. I say this because most KJV only people are virulently anti-catholic.

3) It makes perfect sense that a copyist would put this verse in. The surrounding verses might easily make a person think of the Trinity, and the church became soundly trinitarian by the 500-600s. But it is really hard to imagine why someone would take it out or why copyists would leave it out of all Greek manuscripts until it was reintroduced into Greek by Erasmus in the late 1400s. It did exist in the tradition of the Latin Vulgate from an earlier period, first appearing I think in the 400's in that tradition.

4) But the most convincing bit of evidence of all is the fact that in the heavy debates over the Trinity in the first few hundred years of the church, leading up to the Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381) and Chalcedon (451), the verse is never mentioned. Imagine that, the most trinitarian verse in the entire Bible never mentioned in intense debates over the Trinity! This particular bit of evidence is definitive. It is simply unthinkable that the most trinitarian verse would go unmentioned int he whole of these debates.

In short, to argue that this verse was in the original of 1 John requires a feat of immense irrationality. A person who would argue for its originality is clearly not interested in the truth but in supporting an emotional attachment they have to a tradition.

The Schenck Paradox
Hebrews 1:6 says, "When God leads His firstborn into the world He says, 'Let all the angels of God worship him.'" If your Bible has a cross reference on this verse, it will point you to Deuteronomy 32:43.

But if you go to Deuteronomy 32:43 in most versions (I'll use the KJV), what you'll find is something like this: "Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people."

We look a little puzzled. Why did my cross reference point me here? Is this really the closest verse in the OT to the quote in Hebrews 1:6.

The answer is that the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament on which all but the most recent translations are based read differently from the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) and the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts at this point (NRSV is perhaps the translation that most takes the newer Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts into account). When we take them into account, we find that the KJV text of Hebrews quotes the original OT text more accurately than our KJV OT does. The problem is with the Hebrew copies of the OT on which the KJV OT was based.

But here is a difficult problem for a KJV only approach:

1) The science of textual study has resolved a problem with the text for me. A NT text is accurate to the OT original if I allow that the text that persisted in the Middle Ages was not as original as texts we have since discovered. I can only affirm the accuracy of a NT text in the KJV if I affirm that God did not always allow the OT text of the KJV to be accurate to the original.

2) But to be consistent, we would then need to allow that the NT text of the KJV might not always be accurate to the original also and we would allow for the same science of textual study to work on the NT text. And once we allow for these things, there is little reason to continue to be a KJV only person. We could no longer base our insistence on it because of some theology that says, "God wouldn't have allowed a text to persist through the centuries that wasn't exactly like the original text." We have already allowed that this is not the case for the OT of the KJV.

So once again, the KJV only position turns out to be based on irrational factors rather than on a real interest in the truth.

May the next generation of Christians be a better witness in their thinking than this.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

CafeTutor update

Rather than reformat the things I've done so far, I've gone ahead and put my basic Greek verb click picks in the free section. The next entries, "Greek Subjects and Objects," will be for sale within the week.

So feel free to get an increased taste for how the Greek tutorials will work. Future ones will use animation for the white board, so will require less memory.

The current ones require some patience. I've given instructions for saving them to your hard drive. But if you want to see them online, you'll have to be patient until they download. In other words, watch the grey line move. The video will stop playing if it catches up to the downloading. You then either have to wait for the grey line to move on ahead or you could pull the circle back to the beginning and start playing again. But if you pressure Internet Explorer, it will revolt and shut down. You might go to the page and then make a sandwich or something until it gets well underway.

Some of you will know that I started a series called the Great Ideas Diary. I don't plan to do an entry this weekend, but next Sunday I'll do a 5 minute piece on Book 2 of Vergil's Aeneid. I'm also about ready to do one on Physics, on speed, velocity, distance and displacement.

Enjoy or inflict as necessary...

Postlude 2: Adam, then Eve

Tony: If you are taking this in the husband headship direction, I will just agree to disagree. Although I think some rigid, husband-has-to-be-the-head-even-if-he's-an-imbecile-on-every-level notion sells God and the gospel short.

I suppose someone could argue that Paul's first defense--"Adam first then Eve" is about headship. Then you could argue that the second argument "Eve deceived" is about teaching.

But ultimately, I believe this whole argument doesn't take into account the flexibility of how NT authors used biblical texts. They did not assign a single meaning or application to an OT text and their interpretations almost always read the texts out of context! So Paul reads the Genesis story very differently than an ancient Israelite would have.

And while he gives us one authoritative interpretation of it for one context, everything we know about how NT authors used texts leads us to believe that the same text could be used validly in other ways as well. For example, it would not contradict anything the NT authors do if one of them had argued that Eve was more important than Adam because God made her last, just as God made the animals in the lead up to man in Genesis 1. I want to emphasize this point: it would not be unlike the way NT authors argued to claim that Eve is the supreme creation because after God made the animals and made man, he ended with the crown of His creation: woman.

As it is none of the NT authors actually make such an interpretation, but believe me, some NT authors, including Paul, make arguments from the OT that are far less in context than my hypothetical here (e.g., many connections Matthew draws).

I would say you are institutionalizing an interpretation (yours) of an interpretation (Paul's) of a story (Genesis) that ultimately was not about women in ministry. Genesis 2-3 was originally an etiological story to express why certain things are as they are in the world. Why do men have to work so hard tilling the land? Why are wives subject to their husbands and experience such painful childbirth? Why don't snakes have legs and why don't humans get along with snakes. We'd better have our spiritual glasses on when we are applying it to such a different context such as ours today.

Notice, for example, that in the original story, the woman's desire is to her husband as a consequence of her sin. It doesn't seem to me that the subordination of Eve to Adam was originally the point of the creation order in that story. Rather, this subordination was explained by Eve's sin (Gen. 3:16).

By the way, to show us that we're probably getting too detailed here, notice that if we take Genesis 1 and 2 completely literally and completely historically, they seem to contradict each other somewhat. In other words, both seem to be at least somewhat symbolic.

In the second story, Adam is made before there are any plants or trees on the earth (2:5, 9)--some versions alternate between the words ground and earth but it's the same Hebrew word. In the first story, all these things are made before humanity. Of course there are always ways to force texts together if you're more interested in a particular theology of the Bible more than the Bible itself.

I would suggest that we are immature in our understanding of the Bible if we take these accounts as video feed, live from the garden.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Epilog: A Parable of Out of Focus Interpretation

By current evangelical standards, I was raised in a fairly conservative home. And when I took to dating in college, my conservative conscience kicked in. The girl I was interested in did not look like my conservative sisters. My sisters and mother only wore dresses--she wore slacks and pants as well. My sisters and mother had no jewelry, not even wedding rings--she wore earings and rings. One of my sisters never even trimmed her hair because of 1 Corinthians 11--the girl I was interested in had longish hair, but trimmed it from time to time, including the bangs.

So my conscience struck. I really wanted to date the girl, but if I loved the Lord more, shouldn't I discipline myself and not date her. I couldn't ask her to change if it wasn't in her heart...

Well I'll skip the details, but a year of dating followed. She changed. But eventually, she wisely broke up with me to let me do my therapy on my own time. A few months later, her rings came back and the pants, which she had unwisely forgone to feed my conscience. It felt personal, although it wasn't.

So my internal struggle continued. On the one hand, there were those Bible verses:

1 Timothy 2:9: "I want women to dress with modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothes..."

1 Peter 3:3: "Do not let your beauty be outward, arranging hair and wearing gold and fine apparel."

1 Corinthians 11:6: "if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head."

Deuteronomy 22:5 : "It is an abomination for a woman to wear that which pertaineth to a man [insert pants]"

I was fixated on these verses. My mind told me, it's clear as can be. Women shouldn't wear rings or gold. "Pride goeth before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction." Girls wear jewelry because of pride, how couldn't they given how those rings stand out?

I've both experienced and heard stories of how BIG the rings seem when you get so focused on them. I have a family member who once asked for my wedding ring and then proceeded to waltz around the room with it on her finger saying "Look at me, I have a ring." The implication was that I must wear the ring out of pride or defiance, as if the ring was something I was always conscious of and wore as a statement of how great I was. Surely a person couldn't wear a wedding ring without it being a really big statement.

Keith Drury tells a story of how he went to speak at a conference in the early 70s in a place where they didn't believe in wearing wedding rings. He said as he spoke, he could see the eyes in unison following his left hand. As his had went up, the eyes went up following the ring. When his hand went down, their eyes went down. He was startled that no one was paying the slightest attention to what he was saying because they were so focused on the ring. He finally stopped in the middle of the sermon and said, "Would it help if I took this off and put it in my pocket?" He told me there was an audible sigh of relief when he did.

Why am I saying all this? I'm saying it because I believe a hefty portion of conservative American Christianity is fixated on 1 Timothy 2:12 in a way that is massively out of focus, just like the people who couldn't see anything but the ring. Even though this verse occupies such a small space in the Bible, so many currently can't hardly see anything but this verse when it comes to the matter of women in ministry. How could this verse not be the statement on women in ministry, even though it is really not that clear that it even has anything like ministry in mind and is in one of the more peripheral books in the NT (how many sermons do you hear regularly from 1 Timothy?).

I well remember a day in college a few months after we had broken up. The girl was in the library with her rings back on. It hurt my feelings, it angered me a little. It felt like she was shoving them in my face. But after a few minutes of wrestling, the ridiculousness of the whole thing just broke through on me. She didn't wear the rings because of pride. She was a godly person. It was just a piece of metal, atomic number 79. How in the world could it really be as big a deal to God as it was to me. It seemed to mean about as much to her as a tie might to me.

I would suggest that such a moment of spiritual common sense is greatly in order with regard to women in ministry. The Bible makes it clear that there is no spiritual distinction between men and women. We should really be puzzed at the thought that it would matter to God. We know there is no mental or logical obstacle, certainly not for all women any more than for all men.

So if there is a woman who believes that God has called her, if she has the gifts and graces, how in the world does it make any sense not to affirm her? If you are ever around some of these women--some of our students current and former--you'll have the breakthrough on this issue that I had on rings.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Final Entry: Response on Women

When a person learns to read the books of the Bible in their original context, one of the first principles they learn is that each author and potentially even each book may have its own vocabulary, its own style, and its own conceptual framework. You will misinterpret the original meaning of James if you assume it uses the word "works" or even "faith" in the same way as Paul. You cannot assume that Matthew uses the word "righteousness" the same way as Paul either. Indeed, you cannot assume that Paul himself will present the same exact conceptual framework as you move from one of his letters to the next.

With this fact in mind, and given that 1 Timothy contrasts on so many different levels with Paul's earlier letters, I suggest that it is not only legitimate, but almost necessary, to sit loosely to it, at least at first, when looking at what Paul and other NT authors have to say about women in the rest of the NT. We will come back to 1 Timothy and cautiously ask whether it clarifies the interpretation of Paul elsewhere. But we will neither shove it down Paul's throat elsewhere nor shove Paul elsewhere down 1 Timothy's throat either. As much as is in our power, we will let each passage speak for itself.

The Age of the Spirit
What does it mean when Hebrews takes the idea of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 in relation to what Christ has done: "I will give my laws to their mind and write them on their hearts"? 2 Corinthians may have the same passage in mind from Jeremiah when Paul considers himself minister of the new covenant, "not of the letter but the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:6).

So this new covenant in Christ, in which God writes His laws on the heart in the age of the Holy Spirit, does it send the Spirit mostly to men or to women as well? It sends the Spirit equally to women as well. Consider what Acts 2 has to say in its interpretation of the Day of Pentecost, the commencement of the age of the Spirit: "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh and your sons and your daughters will prophesy... and indeed on my male servants and on my female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit" (2:17-18). Paul actually adds "and daughters" to his citation of 2 Samuel 7:14 in 2 Corinthians 6:18, including women as children of God. And of course the well-known passage Galatians 3:26-29 explicitly includes women as children of God.

Of course those who disagree with women in all roles of ministry will acknowledge all these things. But they will trump them with their understanding of 1 Timothy 2, and it alone. But if we bracket consideration of that verse until we have looked at the rest of the NT, we immediately notice that we would not expect any NT author to forbid women from ministry given this basic theology of the Spirit. We are never given any reason to believe that women have any difference from men at all on the level of the Spirit. And Paul calls them sons in Galatians 3:26 without distinction from men, all who have been baptized into Christ "have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not 'male and female.'"

While I cannot prove it for certain, the slightly different wording of the last "not 'male and female'" statement, in the context of new creation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17), makes me think that this is a poetic reference to Genesis 1:27. God created them different, male and female, but in Christ they are all sons, the creation distinction is undone, there is not male and female any more but you are all sons. While some have attacked this line of thought, I find it perfectly plausible and incapable of disproof.

So I am not surprised to find women in roles of ministry in the early church. I am not surprised to find Lydia at Philippi or Priscilla in Corinth and Ephesus. I am not surprised to find that a woman was notable among the apostles (Rom. 16:7) or that Phoebe is entrusted as the voice of Paul to take Romans to the Roman church at Rome to read it to them in Paul's place (if Romans 16 goes with Romans, that's the most likely way to read it; but some think it was a letter of commendation to the church at Ephesus). At the very least, Paul calls her a deacon (16:1), not deaconess. He uses the same word he used of Timothy in 1 Timothy.

I am not surprised to find that Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9) or that women prayed and prophesied at Corinth (chap. 11). I am not surprised to find that Euodia and Syntyche were Paul's fellow workers at Philippi (Phil. 4).

To me, the spiritual logic seems very straightforward:

1. The Spirit is poured out equally on men and women.
2. One of the functions of the Spirit is to lead us into truth (e.g., John)
3. Therefore, women can equally lead into truth just as men.

Here's a follow up:

1. Women can lead equally into truth as men.
2. Ministering involves leading others into truth (among other things).
3. Therefore, why would God not call women to minister?

The best answer I've heard anyone give in response is "that's just not the way God planned it." Surely no one today would dare argue "because women's bodies cancel out their spirits." Of course that's what a lot of ancients thought and indeed, that's ultimately the logic behind Aristotle's "the husband is the head of the wife."

So how do we know that God did not plan for women to be able to minister to men? Didn't they minister when they prophesied? When Huldah, a woman, was the highest spiritual authority in ancient Israel in 2 Kings 22:13, 14-20, doesn't this imply that a woman can be the highest authority for a denomination?

And do you think that there will be subordination of women in heaven? Clearly not, for they neither marry nor are given in marriage. They are like the angels. So what is the difference down here? Is it the obstacle of the female body or mind? That won't hold up anymore. Is it the sin of Eve? Sorry, that's blasphemy. Again, you just have to say, God just wants it that way.

There is only one verse in the whole NT that even could possibly point in a different direction, 1 Timothy 2:12. Let's say you have dismissed my exegesis in the previous post. Let's say that this verse isn't primarily thinking of husband-wife relationships. Let's say for the sake of argument that it surprisingly is setting down a general rule: women shouldn't teach men. The actual example of the Bible would still lead us to see this rule as a general rule rather than an absolute without exceptions. Here is one myopia of current fundamentalism, it makes exceptionless rules that were not such in the ancient context.

Sure, the sense of ancient Israel was that a man would most of the time be the leader, the general, etc... But there was a place for the exception, the Deborah, the Judith (although fictional), etc... Against this context, surely Acts 2 points to the spiritual ministry of women as a sign of the new age of the Spirit. In that sense, we should expect more and more women in the age of the Spirit to speak for God.

I have serious questions about someone who wants the Scripture to come out against women in all roles of ministry. I understand and respect the person who believes the Scripture teaches something and, while not understanding why women would not be called to minister, submits to what they believe that teaching is. But I have serious questions about anyone, male or female, who deep down doesn't want women to be able to minister to men. What's going on there?

So the spiritual ministries of women on all levels is a sign of the end times, a part of the age of the Spirit and something we should celebrate. Biblical opposition to it ultimately boils down to one verse, a verse that seems in tension with other verses, especially in the light of what actually happened in the earliest church and the earliest relevant principles set down. Indeed, the church order of overseers and deacons in 1 Timothy seems more developed than anything we see before that point. I'm not sure we ever see as much ministerial specificity anywhere else in the NT. It just may point to a time when the need for more standardization was increasingly being felt, especially as a time when the apostles would pass was in view.

So I ask you to pray and reflect on these questions: Does it really make spiritual sense to bar women--especially those who believed they are called--from any role that they seem to be gifted and graced to do? Am I really opposed to women in ministry because of the Bible or because of something in my heart that I need to address?

What if I'm wrong and I'm actually putting a stumblingblock in front of someone? What if I am hindering someone God has called from obeying Him? Why don't I let God sort it out--if women in ministry is not in God's plan, then surely He won't bless any woman in such a ministry. But if I am opposing God's plan, then there is nothing I can do to stop the marching forward of God's kingdom. Basically, I'm road kill.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Reponse on Women 4

It is so well established exegetically that any attempts to deny these clear teachings require the type of violent methods that, rigorously applied, will spare nothing of the epistles.

As far as I can tell, there are only two places in the New Testament that come anywhere close to an argument against women ministering to men: 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2-3. The bulk of Paul's writings and Acts would more lead us to see women teaching/ministering from time to time without gender being raised as an issue (e.g., Priscilla to Apollos in Acts 19).

Since the principles (next post) are on the side of full ministry by women, we will want to look carefully at passages that "minutely" might seem against the idea. I say minutely or mechanically because opposition to women in all roles of ministry goes contrary to spiritual common sense--not pagan common sense. I believe this is another example of Judeo-Christian values working themselves out in our culture.

So we will want to look at these passages very carefully to see whether they in fact mean what some say they mean and to what extent their teaching was culture-specific or universal/timeless.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35
There are some textual problems with these verses. They are in different places in the manuscripts. They interrupt the train of thought on prophecy in chapter 14. There are several shifts in referent like church of Corinth to churches of God (since Corinth isn't a churches but only a church, singular, why would Paul give a command here to churches?). It shifts from a reference to females to a masculine form of the word alone. But I'll presume these two verses were in the original text of 1 Corinthians for the sake of our discussion.

"Let women be silent in the churches."

What kind of silence does Paul have in mind? He has already discussed issues relating to women praying and prophesying with their heads uncovered in chapter 11. Yes, that chapter affirms husband headship in its argument, thus implying that these women were married. Since you prophesy to others and he is addressing worship related behavior, Paul must assume in chapter 11 that wives can legitimately pray and prophesy in the church. Indeed, part of the problem at Corinth is probably that these wives were disgracing their husbands by prophesying in church around other men without a veil to cover their hair. They were prophesying in front of other men while wearing string bikinis without their wedding rings on.

So whatever 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 means, it cannot refer to spiritual speech in church. Otherwise, Paul would contradict himself massively in the space of three chapters. The fact that these women are asking questions of those prophesying leads me to believe that they are disrupting the worship. Paul says for them to ask their husbands at home if they have questions (14:35).

In this case, it is really bad exegesis (I'll give it a D since I grade easy) to suggest that these verses are a prohibition of women speaking in church in a spiritual way. You will only come to that conclusion if you came to the text with it in hand. 1 Corinthians 11 addresses a problem based on women speaking spiritually in the church and Paul's solution there is not to tell them to shut up.

And, to coopt some of Paul's words to the Galatians, even those who oppose women preaching in church don't oppose women speaking in church (e.g., they'll bring women "in their place" like Mary Laslo, Elizabeth Elliot, etc; cf. Gal. 6:13). There are of course some wackos out there who don't let women speak at all in a church, but they also shoot abortion doctors and drag homosexuals behind their pick up trucks. In short, that type are hell bound and I couldn't care less what they think... unless of course they decide to kill me in the name of Christ. Then of course I'll admit that they dwell on a far more spiritual plane than I do.

1 Timothy 2:18-15
Before I start this notorious passage, I want to remind us of universal evangelical hermeneutics: 1) first read the text in its original context, 2) find the timeless principles in the passage, 3) reapply them in our context. I've already mentioned that it is not appropriate simply to apply biblical texts blindly to our situation since they weren't written directly to us (as the Bible's books say, so you're disagreeing with the Bible itself if you disagree with this claim).

First, I think it is most accurate to the original connotations to read this passage with a fundamental conception of women-as-wives in view. I would say that the book throughout does not really think of women as self-sufficient or free standing individuals (Paul does do this sometimes in his earlier letters). Rather 1 Timothy primarily views women as individuals defined in relation to a man.

Accoridingly, the only man to which the Bible ever says a woman is in subjection to (2:11) is to a husband (not all men in general), demonstrating that Paul is thinking of wives in this verse. And Paul's justification for a woman not teaching a man all comes from the husband wife relationship of Adam and Eve (e.g., 2:13). The woman is saved from transgression by childbearing, which presupposes marriage (e.g., 2:15). I hope you get the distinction I am making. This passage may not wholly address women as wives, but it implicitly defines women as wives (underlying assumption: women are individuals whose identity is a function of a husband). I believe these assumptions contrast with the assumptions of other Pauline passages like Galatians 3 as well as Acts 2.

The words for man and woman in this passage also mean husband and wife, and we should generally expect them to have these connotations when they are nearby each other. Thus 2:8 begins with mention of men (who do seem to be understood as free standing individuals), but then procedes to women (whom I think are conceived primarily as people defined in relation to a husband). 1 Timothy has some rather startling words to say about "unattached" widows in chapter 5--the basic idea is that women become busybodies if they are unattached to a man (5:13). So young widows best remarry or they will just end up losing control and giving in to their sensual desires (5:11).

So young women and young widows need to be subjected to the healthy life of a wife and a woman should only be unattached if she is an old widow. By the way, this chapter really doesn't sound like the Paul of 1 Corinthians 7. Something seems to have changed between then and now--perhaps the very situation behind this letter. And presumably that's good exegesis, given that the overwhelming majority of those who are competent to make a judgment and don't have a theological ax to grind have concluded the same thing without debate in a guild where you make your reputation by debating.

In short, there's something going on in 1 Timothy with regard to women, and it's leading Paul to go way beyond anything he says in his other writings. In particular, I notice in 2 Timothy 3:6 that Paul points to certain "weak willed women" as conduits of false teaching.

Secondly, the difficult logic of 2:12-15
Here is the logic of the passage:

1. Wives (women?) are said not to teach or lord over a husband (man?) because

2. Adam was made first, then Eve (argument from "birth order"). Therefore, the husband has the authority of the first born.

3. Eve was deceived (not Adam, implied) and thus women in general are more gullible and more prone to deception than men, more prone to lead their husbands astray. Therefore, wives should not teach their husbands because they are more likely to lead them into heresy and deception.

4. But women are saved from Eve's transgression through childbearing, as Genesis 3:16 mentions, if they live a modest, faithful, holy life. In other words, if women are in their proper place in the family and in relation to their husband in particular, then they are released from the disgrace of Eve's sin.

Did you wince? It's hard for me to believe that any spiritual Christian would not wince at the logic of this passage. By faith I submit to the belief that God approved of this message to Paul's context at this time. But that doesn't automatically mean God wants us to apply it directly to our context any more than we stone our rebellious sons.

And don't give me some half way, cop out interpretation of these verses. This is the most obvious logic given the grammar. If you're going to whine about me not listening to the passage, let's really listen to the passage rather than going half way.

Here are some things that I find very difficult about this train of thought:

1. I imagine that in Paul's day women were more likely to be deceived than men, so I affirm by faith that God let this text stand in relation to Paul's context. After all, women were hardly ever educated and spent most of their time sequestered inside.

But this is not the case in our world. It simply isn't true and there's no denying it. I promise you that the GPA's of my female students far outweigh those of my male students. On average my female students are more mature, wiser, and more responsible than my male ones. In short, it would not be true to say that wives are always more likely to lead their husbands into deception today than the husbands are. I promise you that the average in-touch-with-God-ness of our congregations is way higher for the women than the men.

2. If we take these comments too timelessly, we have a blasphemous statement. The Greek is worded like this: "the wife/woman has come to be in transgression, but she will be saved through childbearing, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with modesty."

The most straightforward reading of this train of thought (understandably one that many resist) is that Eve was deceived and "has come to be" (perfect tense) in transgression. In other words, women came to be in a state of transgression when Eve sinned, a state that has continued into the present time (the usual connotations of the perfect tense). Nevertheless they (shift to all women/wives) will be saved (presumably from that state of transgression) by childbearing (the punishment God attached to Eve's sin), on the condition that they are remaining (present tense) in proper behavior.

So what are we saying here, that Christ did not atone for all sin, only for the sins of Adam? I thought that with one sacrifice Christ has forever atoned for sins (Heb. 10:14). We can't change the painful childbirth of women, but why would we intitutionalize a penalty for sin if we believe Christ's death atoned for all sin? And further, given the clearly context-bound nature of the argument here, should we really make it the cornerstone of our perspective on women, a verse that implies Christ did not actually atone for all sins?

We must take this passage as we take so many images in Jesus' parables--as somewhat exaggerated speech. Sure, women continue to live out the curse of Eve in a painful childbirth. But if we take this comment any further, we have entered the realm of true blasphemy.

So I'll hear nothing of those who would make these verses the cornerstone of a theology of women, especially when we have at hand biblical principles that stand more in the center of biblical theology (next post).

I would go further. It is one thing if you don't really understand why but feel like you need to submit to your understanding of these verses. But I think you have a spiritual problem if you delight in these verses.

1 Timothy 3
I would not expect Paul to factor women into the equation of church overseers in 1 Timothy 3, given the underlying antagonistic tone of the letter toward women's "weaknesses" vis-a-vis those of men. And I'll be glad to defend that claim to those who want it both ways--that Paul really is being positive toward women here, just setting down specific roles. If you argue that, forget your wife, I have some waterfront property I'd like to sell you, you weak-willed, easily deceived, busybody of a man or woman who can't help but give in to sensual desires.

But I also want to point out that Paul does not forbid women overseers here either. And even though I think Paul also presumes male deacons in this chapter, in Romans 16 he calls Phoebe a deacon. Indeed, if Junia is a notable apostle in Romans 16:7, then he calls a woman an apostle, a role that trumps any of the roles in 1 Timothy.

Conclusion to these passages:
So what is the original meaning, the timeless principles, and the reapplication of these passages? For 1 Corinthians it has to do with church order and affirms that women can speak in prayer and prophecy in church in front of other men. I find nothing in 1 Corinthians or any letter other than 1 Timothy that has any comment that even comes close to forbidding women from any ministry role.

In that sense, 1 Timothy reads significantly differently from Paul's earlier letters in many categories (e.g., vocabulary, style, self-depiction, understanding of law, approach to church structure, default positions on marriage versus singleness, not to mention his comments on wives and widows). It is only sloppy exegesis that does not notice how different 1 Timothy is across the board from Paul's earlier letters. And yes, this is what the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars think (who were you reading? someone interpreting the book according to certain preconceived theological categories?).

The principles we apply from 1 Timothy 2 largely have to do with heresy in the church. But taking more key NT passages into view (next post), we must be careful to apply the principles both to men and women. Men can be deceived by heresy too--they can drag their wives in the wrong directions too. Other general principles have to do with order in the church and guarding the "deposit" of the saints. I said in the last post that I can live with husband headship as a timeless principle as well as a possibility.

But in the light of far more central principles of the new age, I cannot live with any application of these verses to the question of women in general taking roles of authority or instruction or ministry when God leads them. I believe the final entry will make it clear that 1 Timothy 2 is really a rather unusual outpost in the NT rather than a stop on the main thoroughfare.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Response on Women 3

In this post I want to distance the question of husband headship from the matter of women in ministry.

The New Testament teaching distinguishing the role of women from that of men is strong and clear. It is so well established exegetically that any attempts to deny these clear teachings require the type of violent methods that, rigorously applied, will spare nothing of the epistles... As always on major issues for the church, the true discussion is exegetical. If we can reject what the New Testament teaches regarding different roles for men and women it seems to me that we can/must also reject what is taught concerning homosexuality and other issues.

First of all, as long as husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church, I will not be too zealous to argue against husband headship in the home. I've said enough elsewhere I think for you to get my gist on that issue. Since Aristotle says the husband is normally the head of the wife and household, there is nothing uniquely Christian in this specific claim. The direction in which Paul modifies the given cultural framework gives us what is uniquely Christian on this topic.

But I will agree to disagree on this question... the Wesleyan Church has no official position on headship in the home.

But good exegesis bids us distinguish the question of husband headship from the question of women in ministry. For example, notice that I have not said male headship, as if the NT teaches that every male is the head of every female. I've been careful to say "husband-headship." The "household codes" of Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, Titus 2, and 1 Peter 3 have to do with husband wife relationships, not with the generic relationships between male and female in general.

So your comment is partially correct. The epistles give a fairly clear sense of the normal roles in which husbands and wives relate to each other. I say "normal" because, as my last post shows, the general sense of much biblical injunction seems to presume the possibility of exceptions.

I would be surprised if you will find too many scholars (if any) who would argue that these household passages are about all men being the heads of all women.

And don't give me some lame argument like the one Calvinists sometimes give about God's sovereignty: "Humans can't have free will because then God wouldn't be in control." Here's a thought, what if it is God's will for humans to have free will? Is God not sovereign enough to choose to give humanity free will? Sorry God, You're just not allowed to do that because You're sovereign. Give me a break.

So what if a husband head delighted in the call of his wife to a senior pastorate? How would that contradict his headship? And of course, if he is submitted to God and God calls his wife, then he would not be allowed by God to use the excuse of headship to keep her from ministry. "You decide whether we should obey God or humans" (Acts 4:19). Let's see, whose headship trumps... God's or a husband's? If she is called and he says no, then she must obey the superior head, and he must repent before he loses his soul for disobedience to God.

So don't give me any feeble minded argument against women in ministry based on the headship passages. Your case will have to stand or fall on either 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 or 1 Timothy (next post). Of these two, only the exegetical argument from 1 Timothy has any real weight on this issue. Let's see how well established exegetically these arguments are. The well established exegetical basis of fundamentalists against women in ministry mostly boils down to one verse in the entire Bible.

And then (final post), let's look at the passages whose principles form the basis for the Wesleyan Church's "reasoning." Yes, the Wesleyan common sense on this issue predates secular feminism and the women's rights movement. It comes from the spiritual sense of the New Testament read as a whole rather than when a particular interpretation of 1 Timothy is shoved down the rest of the NT's throat.

Response on Women 2

I thought I would address your important comments on Jesus and Scripture secondly.

Jesus linked His own authority inseparably with that of the written revelation. He based His personal authority in large part on His fulfillment of scripture. He gave His strongest unqualified and absolute endorsement of the words and very letters used to convey God's Word to man. You can't logically believe in Jesus without believing in the inspiration and divine character and authority of the written Word, and vice versa. So placing extreme torque on clear scriptures is dangerously parallel to crucifying Jesus immediately after giving loud verbal affirmation to His divinity.

One of the things that happens when people look to Jesus is they often create Jesus in their own image. I thought I could just give three examples to make it clear that Jesus' use of Scripture (or slightly more accurately, the four distinct gospel presentations of it) is usually a little different from what you are suggesting it was:

Example 1: Jesus on Deuteronomy 24:1
This verse freely allows for divorce, as Jesus interprets it in Matthew 19:8: "Moses allowed you to divorce your wives." But in his usual way, "You have heard it said, but I say to you," Jesus overturns Moses' law by pointing to a situational reason--and one involving sin nonetheless: "because of the hardness of your hearts."

In other words, Jesus says that something in the Old Testament was there because of the sinfulness of Israel, and he contradicts it.

Indeed, while many of the "you have heard, but I say" passages of Matthew 5 have the character of extending the scope of the original OT, many of them shuffle or even conflict with the OT. "You have heard 'an eye for an eye' (Deut. 19:21), but I say do not resist an evil person" (Matt. 5:38-39).

Example 2: Jesus on Leviticus 24:9
Jesus does not actually quote this text, but he alludes to it when he points out the Scriptural problem with what David and Abiathar did in 1 Samuel 21:1-9. In Mark 2:23-27, Jesus accepts the conclusion of the Pharisees that his disciples are working on the Sabbath (we would have tried to reinterpret their actions in another way). Instead Jesus basically argues that there is a time to make exceptions from even really, really big OT laws like the one that says only the priests are allowed to eat the bread of presentation.

So Jesus not only did not model absolutism in the use of Scripture, he rebuked the Pharisees for it and argued that situations are involved when applying the Bible.

Example 3: Matthew 2:15 on Hosea 11:1
Jesus' fulfillment of Scripture almost always involved a non-literal dimension that was spiritually, not literally discerned. Indeed, you will never convince a studied Jew to convert to Christianity using prophecy-fulfillment as your argument.

Matthew 2:15 says that Jesus' return from Egypt fulfilled the Scripture, "Out of Egypt I called my son." Of course there are spiritual parallels to be found here, but Hosea 11:1 is no prediction about some event in the life of the Messiah: "When Israel was a child, I called my son out of Egypt, but the more I called them, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and burned incense to idols."

The fulfilled verse was clearly about Israel and the exodus on a literal level, and no one could ever apply the last part of this verse to Jesus: "he sacrificed to the Baals." Matthew is taking this verse in a spiritual, "fuller" sense.

So we will not find in Jesus or the NT authors anything like modern fundamentalist (Pharisee-like, Judaizer-like) slavery to the literal meaning of the biblical text. Jesus models quite the opposite.

Perhaps the most dangerous assumption made by modernist conservatives in the church is that there is only one, relatively clear meaning to each biblical text and that the divinely ordained appropriation of every biblical text is to be based on the literal meaning in every case. The New Testament authors themselves beg to differ--BIG TIME.

You can say that Jesus always had other Scriptures in mind when he shuffled biblical texts. But then again, the Wesleyan Church has Scriptural support when it fully affirms women in all roles of ministry. I would not ordain any ministerial candidate in the Wesleyan Church who did not hold this position! I would not hire any faculty in the religion department (or to high level administration) of any Wesleyan college who did not hold this position! I would not allow anyone to work at Wesleyan church headquarters who did not have this position.

But I also want to make clear that the WC has no official position on the husband-headship issue--an issue that I want strongly to distinguish from the question of women in ministry (next post). Many Wesleyans believe that the husband should be the head of the home, and on this I would say, "Feel free to disagree with me." Feel free to express disagreement on the other, but I strongly want to change your mind.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Response to Dan 1

I wanted to respond to a very thoughtful reply to my post: "What's wrong with those who oppose women in ministry?" I obviously worded this purposely in a very strong manner, implying that those who disagree with women in all forms of ministry disagree with God. This is a subject where I would not use my frequent tag-line "Feel free to disagree." On this one I would have to say, "Feel free to express disagreement." But I'm hoping you will change your mind.

I figure I'll babble on long enough that I had better respond to you, Dan, in stages.

Ken, I love your heart for what is best in the church and for God's people, but I take your heading personally! ;-) What's wrong with me is a very big topic, but here's a try as it applies to this subject: There are some who simply purpose to accept the authority of the Word in all things.

So what does the Word say on this matter? All evangelicals accept the following process:

1. Since the books of the Bible were written to ancient audiences (as the books of the Bible themselves say, so to take the words differently is not to submit to the authority of the Word in its literal sense), the first task of appropriation is to ask what those words meant in their original settings and situations.

2. Joining those original meanings to our world requires us to identify the timeless principles of those words in their original context so that we can reapply those same timeless principles in our context.

I would add to these universally accepted evangelical principles (at least) two comments of clarification:

1. Joining the teaching of these writings, each written to its own individual context, is a task the biblical texts themselves do not do for us. James does not tell us how to connect its "A person is justified by works and not by faith alone" with Paul's "A person is justified by faith apart from works of law." We are forced to step in and synthesize these. There can be no straightforward submission to the Bible's authority on the topic of jusification by faith or works because we are forced to find the point of unity between constrasting statements. On this subject, the authority of the Word of God unavoidably must be filtered through human reasoning on some level.

2. Blindly doing what the biblical audiences were commanded to do is very dangerous, since those actions may not achieve the same purposes in our context. This is just the way it is, like it or not. A woman who puts a veil on her head when she prophesies in church (to follow 1 Corinthians 11) just isn't doing the same thing the women of Corinth did when they veiled at Corinth. And I doubt any of us would suggest we should stone our rebellious sons because of a blind application of Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

I don't think you disagree with what I'm saying here, although there are many Christians with such misguided understandings, thinking it is God's will to apply every verse blindly to themselves (as they understand the words on the basis of their varied "dictionaries"). The New Testament authors certainly did not read the OT this way (next post). In fact, not even the Amish do--even if they don't trim the edges of their beards (Lev. 19:27) and the men do greet each other with a kiss (1 Thess. 5:26).

What I think you are suggesting is a valid question (but with the wrong answer): Is the position of the Word of God so clear on this topic that to favor women in all kinds of ministry is a failure to submit to biblical authority. So next post...