The discussion of gender in the church is more than a two-position conversation

Bathroom-gender-signWell, we’re back in a discussion on gender. It will be a limited one this time; I really want to finish the study of baptism that we’ve been doing.

But I have a few more things to say on this matter, a little more pot stirring to do, so we’ll give this topic the rest of this week.

One of my concerns about this topic specifically and current public discourse in general is the tendency to reduce all issues to two choices. You’re pro-life or pro-abortion. You’re liberal or conservative. In this discussion, you’re complementarian or egalitarian. (with my spell checker showing as little pleasure with the word complementarian as I feel)

I think it would greatly help this discussion if we could recognize that views on this issue cover a wide range of opinions and beliefs. It’s not yes/no or in/out. There are nuances and facets, themes and variations.

What if we thought about the differing views as a spectrum of ideas? This is still oversimplification, but it moves the discussion closer to the truth. Just for discussion’s sake, let’s call full egalitarianism E6 and the opposite extreme (misogyny) E0.

E0 sees women as inferior. They are to be silent in the church. Even singing is forbidden. Men and women don’t sit together. Women cover their heads in public, maybe even using veils.

E1 takes a slightly more generous view. Women may sing, but they are not to speak in the assembly. They may ask questions, respond to questions, or read Scripture in a Bible class setting; they may not pray nor teach. They may teach women, but only if there are no men present at the time.

E2 allows women to fully participate in church… as long as they do not do so from a standing position or from the front of the auditorium. They might be allowed to answer direct questions during the assembly or make prayer requests.

E3 lets women make announcements or give testimony in the assembly. They are restricted from anything that smacks of having authority over men or teaching.

E4 feels that women can pray or read scripture, based on 1 Corinthians 11. They are still restricted from authority or teaching, based on 1 Timothy 2.

E5 feels that women can do just about anything that men can in the assembly. The only restriction is that the eldership is still seen as a male domain.

E6 sees no difference between what men and women can do or be in the church.

Most points of the spectrum feel that those toward the lower end from them are a bit legalistic and those to the higher end a bit liberal. People at the far ends (E0-E1 and E-6) may feel that their view is the only possible view, the only one that is truly grounded in Scripture. Most of those toward the middle of the spectrum recognize the possibility that other views may be as acceptable as theirs.

That’s my proposal, artificial though the distinctions may be. Personally, I’m willing to allow each congregation to find its identity, answering not to me but to the Lord as to the correctness of their views. There is one view that I reject outright: the view that damns others that don’t share their viewpoint.

47 thoughts on “The discussion of gender in the church is more than a two-position conversation

  1. Nick Gill


    My problem is that the situation has gone beyond “either you’re egalitarian or complementarian.”

    Now, you’re either pro-justice or anti-justice, where pro-justice = your E6 category and everything else is ipso facto anti-justice.

    Us E4.5 to E5 (speaking of myself and others in my neighborhood on your scale) types aren’t choosing to frame the conversation that way; those who claim to be powerless are the ones exercising rhetorical power to frame the conversation that way.

  2. Tim Archer Post author

    Nick, that’s what I was referring to as “bullying.” Of course, I committed the same offense, using an emotionally-charged word to convey my point.

  3. JTB


    please consider that “rhetorical power” might be the only kind of power we gals have, and even so, we are quite restricted in where we may exercise it.

    I’m forthright and loud on the internet. It is the only space I get to be so. So I have to make use of it the best way I know how.

    Even so, I will insist that no, no, no, language of justice is not prejudicial here. Yes, it is an intentional reframing of the “issue,” because the ways that the “issue” has been framed with those who have both the rhetorical power, platform and leadership have obscured some of the most important dimensions of the “issue.” Even the 6-point continuum above continues to do so, I assume unintentionally, by repeating language of “allows,” “lets,” “may do”–it continues, in other words, to make this a matter of discerning what women may and may not DO, and that discernment, may I add, is happening in leadership structures in which the perspectives and voices of women on this matter are prescriptively absent already!

    Finally, let me say this, once more, and please hear me as sincere.

    Do I think one understanding of the Word is better than the other? YES. But hear me well: I also understand that both of these choices strive to be faithful. In that sense, there is no one single “faithful” choice. So, I may think you’re wrong, and I’ll not hold back from saying so, but thinking that you’re wrong does not mean I think you are unfaithful to God by disagreeing with me. You’re just wrong. But God will forgive you. –As indeed God will forgive for those things I get sincerely, faithfully wrong.

    Let us conduct our conversation in that spirit. I may think you’re wrong all the way to heaven, friends, but that does not mean I condemn you as sinful, as unfaithful, as unloving, as whatever. I take for granted that you–like me–are struggling to understand and live out the will of God the best you can. Surely that much grace we can all extend to one another.

  4. Tim Archer Post author

    But JTB, calling me unjust is calling me unfaithful. If the only “just” position is what I’ve labelled E-6, then you ARE calling me unfaithful to God.

  5. JTB

    No, Tim. I am not. I’m saying that I think you are wrong. Sincerely, faithfully, wrong.

  6. Kaitlin

    “Those who claim to be powerless…”

    Can’t we at least agree to listen to these stories of “those who claim to be powerless”? Justice language may be uncomfortable, but it’s used sincerely, born out of experience and deeply held conviction. While I agree that we should strive for peace and unity, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to have the conversation. Also, this conversation needs more female voices. Not because we are the only “authority” on this (pun intended), but because this is truly a conversation in which our relationship with God and the church is at stake. I don’t say that to discount your conversation and I hope it’s not taken that way. I just say that because I need you to realize that as a man you will only be speaking about women’s roles from an observer status, not someone who has experienced it firsthand.

    I agree with JTB. This is not, nor does it have to be a “damning” conversation. But we can continue to disagree and discuss why we believe God is callin his people to full inclusion. Without harmful attitudes or hurt feelings.

    A sincere question: As an E6, does my wish to see my church family as E6s as we’ll make me a bully? And if not, why I can’t I talk about that desire and continue to lead people in that conversation?

  7. Scott L

    I don’t have a lot to contribute to this conversation. I’m an Episcopalian, and will gladly celebrate this year the 40th anniversary of the first ordinations of women to the priesthood. My life has been enriched by the public ministry of women in The Episcopal Church (just as my life has been enriched by the folks at, and I can’t imagine ever going back to a church that doesn’t “allow” women to do certain things in public worship.

    I want to make one brief point: men in this conversation should be very careful about using the word “bullying.” Advocates who use the language of justice in this setting aren’t bullying, they are advocating. The fact that your feelings are hurt doesn’t meant that bullying has occurred; it just means that your feelings are hurt.

    The APA defines bullying and has some resources available here:

  8. Tim Archer Post author


    Let me try and explain with an example about another topic. I’m one who believes that our heavenly citizenship limits how our earthly citizen can be expressed. Among other things, I’ve decided that Christians shouldn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. Definitely a minority view among Christians in the States.

    If I couch my beliefs in terms of justice/righteousness, then I am necessarily saying that others are unjust and unrighteous when they don’t abide by my convictions. It’s not just that the language is uncomfortable. It’s judgmental.

    For many who espouse an egalitarian viewpoint, that’s an unintended consequence of the term “gender justice.” But despite the lack of intent, the consequence is there.

    I’m thankful for the presence of female voices in this conversation. Jeffrey spoke of “all the women who have been criticizing your blog post in other corners of the internet.” If such really exist, then I’m glad for the brave few who dare to come in and let their voices be heard. (I say “dare” because I know I don’t always conduct myself in a way that is welcoming to dissent)

    Anyway, to address your last paragraph: I don’t think that you’re desire to see the church move toward egalitarianism makes you a bully, any more than my desire to see the church move away from nationalism makes me one. But our language can at times lay hold of bullying terms.

    Grace and peace,

  9. Tim Archer Post author

    Thanks Scott for the input. Interesting to note that the APA defines bullying in part as intentionally causing discomfort and says it can be done by words. So if someone says they’ve chosen to use certain words in order to make others uncomfortable…?

  10. Scott Raab

    I appreciate your willingness to discuss all these things.
    The point that bothered me in the beginning of your E0 – E6 was the idea that the views of what a woman may do implies a certain value of women. I think I know people who are on the E0 position as far as what women may do, but they are absolutely not mysogenistic (if I understand that term correctly) or think women are inferior. The rest of your scale only talked about what actions could or could not be taken by women – not the value of the women themselves therein positted.
    Isn’t this what the discussion is really about? A misconception that a different view of task of necessity means a different view of value?

  11. Scott L

    The entirety of the definition is important: “the bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to ’cause’ the bullying.”

    Men in the church, who have a large amount of power, do not have trouble defending themselves. As men have shown time and time again. Furthermore, systemic marginalization means that those who have been pushed to the side often have to shout to be heard. That shouting isn’t bullying; it is the overcoming of injustice.

  12. Nick Gill


    I bless God for having given you the gracious spirit you’ve expressed above, and I pray that it might take deeper root in my own heart as well.

    I’d like to lean into a couple of points you brought up, though.

    please consider that “rhetorical power” might be the only kind of power we gals have, and even so, we are quite restricted in where we may exercise it.

    I have a hard time considering that idea, because it is foreign to my experience. I’ve never been in a congregation or world where women only possessed “rhetorical power” and were quite restricted in where they were free to exercise it. I do not deny that those places exist; I deny that they are common, and I further deny that quality policy can be developed by treating extremes as if they are norms.

    Everywhere I’ve been in the Christian world, women possess rhetorical power that can be expressed 166 or 167 hours a week.

    Women possess relational power that can be enacted whenever and wherever they are. My wife is an elder’s daughter, and I know that my mother-in-law possesses far more relational power to influence decision-making at Holly Hill than I, of the privileged gender, ever will. The committee of women that meets every month possesses far more relational power to get things done than I ever will.

    Women possess kenotic power, the self-emptying ability to lead that is enshrined in Mark 10 as the true hallmark of kingdom greatness.

    The power that women lack in so many Christian structures is positional power, the very kind of power which I and most other males will also never possess. So please forgive my skepticism at the claim that rhetorical power is the only power women possess in the kingdom.

    it continues, in other words, to make this a matter of discerning what women may and may not DO, and that discernment, may I add, is happening in leadership structures in which the perspectives and voices of women on this matter are prescriptively absent already!

    For all the reasons listed above, I reject that the perspectives and voices of women are absent from the leadership structures. Women have been exegeting Scripture as part of the Spirit-filled community of faith and influencing the church by communicating their thoughts and beliefs for millennia.

    But that being said, who is forcing people to submit to or participate in unjust leadership structures? They aren’t established by LAW. People choose to participate in them. When Jesus came, he neither co-opted nor climbed inside the unjust priesthood structure — he replaced it.

    He created an alternative community by the power of the gospel, and let the attractiveness of that power erode its competitors. Likewise, it is the attractive power of the gospel both outside and within the alternative communities that we establish by the Spirit’s leading that will erode and eventually eliminate injustice.

  13. Tim Archer Post author

    Thanks, Scott Raab, for that contribution. That last paragraph bears repeating:

    Isn’t this what the discussion is really about? A misconception that a different view of task of necessity means a different view of value?

  14. Kaitlin

    Thanks for your response, Tim. I do agree that we have to be careful with our language. But wouldn’t you agree that justice language can be used in some cases, even if it puts people on the defensive? Especially if it involves personhood?

    The pledge is a good example of differing belief systems, but doesn’t necessarily involve personhood. However, if this were a discussion on the confederate flag, one might couch that as a justice issue. Personhood.

    Maybe it depends on experience. I grew up church of Christ. As a woman. In many different churches and in many different states. It is a very real struggle for me. I want people to continue to talk about it and push each other on it because it is a vital part of my identity.

    What language can I use to better convey this importance?

  15. James T Wood

    This is a good move to look at the variety of views on the issue. I feel that you’ve conflated two things here that might be the source of conflict.

    On your scale E0 is misogyny, but E6 is participation in church. One is a value judgment while the other is activity within an organization.

    I see two scales here and I see the argument over the confusion between which scale is being referenced.

    The value scale from V0 – Misogyny to V6 – Equal in value

    The church activity scale A0 – No activity to A6 – Active in every way.

    The value scale informs the activity scale and often the activity scale reflects the value scale. But the value scale is an issue of justice where the activity scale is a matter of preference.

    My mother-in-law was at a church where they began expanding the activity of women. She affirmed full V6 value, but she preferred A 3 activity for herself. Once she was fully valued she had the liberty to choose her own level of activity.

  16. Tim Archer Post author


    This could definitely just be a personal preference, but I find the language of equality less offensive. It worked socially (i.e. Equal Rights Amendment).

    Of course that too gets back to James T Wood’s comment: can you believe in equal value and not believe in equal activity

  17. JTB

    Nick, I am always impressed by your consistency and rigor in the way you process things…you’re always a marvelous discussion partner.

    In conversation with a very wise leader of the church a few days ago at the Christian Scholars Conference at Lipscomb, the observation that we might do well to talk about “serving” rather than “leading” might be a helpful reframing of our conversations are gender justice. I think that it can be, as long as we keep in mind that even while we speak of the theological concept of service we are also simultaneously speaking of the human reality of institutional power structures. But this very point illustrates one of the deeper dimensions of the problem, which is the way that hierarchy insinuates itself into all institutions, including the church.

    Are women influential in the ways you describe within our churches, even given the ways that women are structurally excluded from formal leadership/public service of the church? Sure. Women have rhetorical and relational power. And those forms of power are effective and real. But those forms of power are also informal, located outside the structure, and indirect. Elders’ wives may have rhetorical and relational forms of power that indirectly affect the way those elders lead/serve the church, but they do not have the same kind of power that the elders themselves do. If they did, they themselves would be elders–and of course women elders is one of the last things on the list for any CofC to move into, even so-called inclusive or egalitarian ones. To put it bluntly, there is no seat at the table for a woman in the room where discernment happens and decisions are made. There is no woman’s voice heard in the process that happens in that room. Women’s voices are present only insofar as the men in that room carry them silently within their heads and hearts. Is this sufficient? Is this just?

    And of course it is true that the rhetorical power women do possess in the church is limited and restricted. There are literally times and places where we may not speak. I would also add, that even in those times and places where we can and do speak, it is often the case that the words of women are not received in the same way as the words of men.

    So, while women may exercise some forms of power and even exercise them effectively, these forms of power are the kind of power found in the margins, outside the center of institutional power. These are subversive forms of power, for good or ill. (And I’m sure you have seen the arguments, as I have, that one of the reasons women are not supposed to be leaders is that these very forms of power that are left to women have been expressed in ways that are dysfunctional within the community, and thus taken as proof that women are not meant to be leaders even indirectly via rhetoric voiced in acceptable places and times or via relationships.)

    So, given the reality of tension between the universal call to use the gifts of the Spirit in service for the good of all and the institutional power structures which are ultimately hierarchical and exclusive–which you have named descriptively as “positional power”–yes, there is some power but it is not equal power. And I think this is a very real problem.

    [Your point about “kenotic power” brings up too many other things for me to helpfully discuss here (I say this just to note that I’m not missing it or intending to ignore it). Perhaps though the more general point about leadership versus service says something to it.]

  18. Nick Gill


    I have a huge amount of respect for your work as well. My prayer is that I will grow in my ability to apply to my own mind and my own ideas and beliefs the same consistency and rigor you see me use to process the ideas of others.

    Here’s a question that I wrestle with — gender justice folk seek a seat at a table that I’m not convinced should exist.

    Where is this metaphorical decision-making table in the early church? In both Acts 6 and Acts 15, the whole Jerusalem church gathers “around the table” to sort out the problems at hand. In the epistles, leadership is a gift of the Spirit that isn’t shackled to any hierarchical structure. Whatever elders do, there is no implication that it is done in private, cut off from the voices of the congregation.

    So when you write,

    So, given the reality of tension between the universal call to use the gifts of the Spirit in service for the good of all and the institutional power structures which are ultimately hierarchical and exclusive–which you have named descriptively as “positional power”–yes, there is some power but it is not equal power. And I think this is a very real problem.

    I must agree with you — there is a very real problem. But while you perceive that the problem is the number of chairs at the table and the gender of those seated in them, I perceive that the problem is the existence of the table altogether. Address the problem you perceive, and there’s still the problem of marginalization of voices — placing a woman, or even an equal ratio of women to men, at the table STILL only gives THOSE men and women voices at the table. The rest of the voices are marginalized. Address the problem I perceive, and the problem you perceive seems to vanish as well.

  19. JTB

    If we can solve the problem by getting rid of the table–then yay, I’m all for it. But in the churches I’ve been a part of where there was no formal eldership, the decision making was done in “men’s business meetings” in which any man who wished could be a part of that process, but women were still clearly excluded. So, I think if this strategy is going to address gender-based exclusion and silencing, it will have to be an intentional rather unintentional thing.

  20. GMTS

    I believe it was a great day and great success for the enemy when he saw that through legalistic interpretations he had effectively silenced 50% of the kingdom of God.

  21. Tera H

    The scale here reminds me of a conversation I had years ago when I was studying abroad in Germany. I had a friend there, a traditional Muslim man from Tunisia, who frequently expressed interest in marrying an American woman. Knowing his view of gender, when he mentioned that he wanted to marry an American woman, I would tell him that I thought he would be very unhappy married to an American woman. One time he said, “Tera, you don’t understand, I would be good to her; I would let her have an education.” I was unable to explain to him that the problem was his view that it was his decision as to whether or not to “let” her get an education.

    The comparison between this story and the scale here is that E0 and E5 is that they are all telling women what they are allowed to do. On the one hand, there are differences between going to a church that is an E5 over an E1, just as there would be advantages to being married to someone who “let you have an education” over someone who didn’t. The bigger issue, though, is that, as in the marriage, in the E0-E5 positions women are not equal, responsible parties in the discussion.

  22. Wes Dawson

    First of all let me say that I have no solution to this discussion. I am not entirely sure where on your scale I would place myself.

    I do agree whole heartedly with your last sentence. It is a fact that we have become far to judgmental of one another. I sometimes wonder how congregations hang together at all rather than why we have become so divided. This was not what the restoration was all about.

    The aim was to show love, consideration, and understanding to other believers even when we were far apart in our understanding of the scriptures and to draw closer in this understanding the scriptures by love and consideration with a study of the word in which each could participate without being condemned by everyone else.

    I have also come to realize through a preaching school leadership class that we have this problem partly because we have turned the Biblical view of leadership upside down.

    Jesus taught that the leader was the best servant (Matthew 20:25-28). Our leaders often fit the Gentile model better.

    After sitting and thinking about this, I realized that the teaching I heard from my grandfather, an elder; my father, a deacon; my uncle, a deacon and a preacher; influenced me to be led as much by the women in my life as by the men because they taught the view expressed by Jesus.

    My grandmother critiqued my early preaching which I appreciated because she knew the Bible well, even though we sometimes disagreed. I could depend on her to honestly tell me if I did a good job or should have studied it more.

    My mother was responsible for my early Bible knowledge and promoting the idea that I should preach.

    My aunt was my first formal Bible teacher in the Sunday School Card Class and encouraged my work for the Lord.

    Since all of these are now departed, my dear wife now helps me through Biblical and spiritual difficulties. Giving my efforts an honest and useful critique. We can discuss the Bible even when we disagree without condemning each other, and her support makes preaching much easier than it would be otherwise.

    If we men would admit it, Christian women lead far more than we or they believe already.

    Wes Dawson

  23. Wes Dawson

    A comment by JTB just made me remember that the congregation where I worship is not entirely typical.

    First of all, some years ago someone brought up the problem that no one seemed to know of a scriptural example for “the men’s business meeting model” in a congregation without elders, but what else could you do?

    It did not take long to come up with an example of a business meeting in the Bible (Acts 6). That raised another question. The meeting in Acts 6 was of the “whole multitude” (Acts 6:2 & 5). Whoops! That included women.

    Today, as in other congregations where I have preached, business meetings are congregational, women are included and have a vote.
    I wish I could say, all congregations where I have preached, but there are still some holdouts.


  24. Kristen Dugas

    Yes Tim, you are right that we all answer to God for the correctness (or incorrectness) of our views. That’s why I have studied indepth these passages about women. For many years, I saw so many contradictions in Scripture on these passages that I didnt know which way to go. I would read that all believers are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2: 9) and that all believers, when they assemble, may give a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14: 26). Yet I was told that I, as a woman, cannot teach God’s Word to men, or as other scholars believe, that I cannot teach God’s Word to either men or women, due to 1 Timothy 2: 12. I read that believers were to obey God rather than men (Acts 5: 29) and that believers were to submit to God (James 4: 7), yet I was told that married female believers were to submit to their husbands in everything (Epeshians 5: 24). I was told by some that women were to be veiled while praying and prophesying (1 Cor. 11: 5-6) and by others that women did not need to be veiled since her hair had been given instead of a covering (1 Cor. 11: 15) and by others that women could not pray and prophesy because they were to be silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14: 34-35). I was told that women were only saved through Jesus Christ (Acts 4: 12), and then I was told that women would be saved through childbearing (1 Timothy 2: 15). So over and over again I saw serious contradictions to Scripture. Believers would try to explain the contradictions away, but their attempts were futile as none of their arguments made any sense to me. So as I said above, I studied Scripture for myself and came to a far different conclusion (as you can see on my website). I am an E6 and believe that their is neither male nor female in Christ (Galatians 3: 28) which means that their is neither male nor female in the church. I thank you for the opportunity to speak out on your blog and for considering what we all have to say.

  25. Matt Dabbs

    What blows my mind is that if you take all of this out of an auditorium and into a living room and the vast majority of people (who might otherwise care) would make ZERO distinction or be uncomfortable with a woman doing most if not all things.

    That begs the question, how have our traditions and institutionalism affected our view of this issue even over scripture.

  26. Nick Gill

    The bigger issue, though, is that, as in the marriage, in the E0-E5 positions women are not equal, responsible parties in the discussion.

    That may be true in some cases, but it is demonstrably false in many. In heterosexual marriage, the man cannot be the mother and the woman cannot be the father. That isn’t because one of the participants in the marriage decided it would be that way — that is because the One who created marriage designed it that way.

    For those who hold E0-E5, the differences in roles exist not because one participant in the relationship that is church decided that it would be that way, but because the One who designed church created it that way.

    Wes’ point is well-made; there is nothing less Scriptural in this whole discussion than the concept of a men’s business meeting.

    Matt’s point is also well-made; the question with which we’re not wrestling is, “Why we would rather engage in discussions about power acquisition instead of shaping ourselves into healthier structures that allow for a “power-under” rather than “power-over” community?” One cannot eat one’s cake and have it; one cannot at the same time cry out for a seat at the top of the hierarchy while at the same time saying, “Down with hierarchy!”

  27. JTB

    But Nick, being a father requires a penis. Preaching a sermon does not.

    And trust me, no woman in the CofC that I know is crying out for a place at the top of hierarchy. These women want to SERVE. They’re being restricted from serving the church. Not from dominating it.

  28. Nick Gill

    no woman in the CofC that I know is crying out for a place at the top of hierarchy. These women want to SERVE. They’re being restricted from serving the church. Not from dominating it.

    Jen, you have to make up your mind what is desired. You said earlier that “these women” want seats at the decision-making table — that’s the table at the top of the hierarchy in the structure you want full access to.

    they do not have the same kind of power that the elders themselves do. If they did, they themselves would be elders–and of course women elders is one of the last things on the list for any CofC to move into, even so-called inclusive or egalitarian ones. To put it bluntly, there is no seat at the table for a woman in the room where discernment happens and decisions are made. There is no woman’s voice heard in the process that happens in that room.

    Now tell me, why will the top of the hierarchy suddenly shift from dominance to service (your description, not mine, remember) once women are seated at the table?

  29. Nick Gill

    But Nick, being a father requires a penis.

    And, thankfully, no one told that to my adoptive father, whose penis had nothing to do whatsoever with his influence on my life.

  30. JTB

    Less tongue-in-cheek and frustrated, though–I want to uphold Nick’s/Wes’s/Matt’s points about power-over being the wrong model, period. I’m not sure that power-under is what I’d suggest, but power-with.

  31. JTB

    Ah! Nick, I almost immediately wrote another comment under that one that amended it to “usually!” #youreabsolutelyright

  32. JTB

    I think part of our disconnect on that (just saw the comment re seats at table) is that I am a little more cynical than you about the possibility of solving the problem by getting rid of the metaphorical table (that was my point about the men’s bizness meeting model–no table, but still, managed to be exclusive rather than inclusive in a very particular way). Part of what makes the structure problematic is its exclusivity but simply getting rid of structure doesn’t guarantee inclusivity, in other words. So my assumption, frankly, is that we need structure but we need structure that is not hierarchical and exclusive–which means that maybe what we need is a “table,” keeping with our metaphor, but the table needs to be accessible to all and representative of all and for the good of all. And then maybe our table ends up looking less like a table and more like a something else (I don’t know where to go with this metaphor now) but not because we dumped it out of frustration but because it was transformed via the very process of opening up the structure for all.

  33. JTB

    Also–not to be snarky!–but, if (as you claimed above) women are particularly gifted in “kenotic” ways, then that itself might be an argument that women at the table would be transformative.

    That’s not particularly an argument I think I want to make, though. ;)

  34. Wes Dawson

    In regard to JTB’s comment I am not sure either power-with or power-under conveys the power of being a servant of the the Lord. Certainly power-over does not unless we were talking about power over evil. As far as I can see, the servant of Jesus Christ in the final analysis answers only to him. He answers to God. And yes, I know that the same scripture that indicates that Christ is the head of man and God is the head of Christ also says the man is the head of the woman, but in that case man’s headship is not absolute. She is clearly, from other scriptures, not to allow him to cause her to do evil.

    Much of what the scriptures say about women & power has more to do with usurping authority than exercising authority given her. But that is also true of men, I.e. Diotrephes (3 John 9). As one brother pointed out a couple of Sunday’s ago, men often usurp authority too. Usurping means taking power you are not given by the Lord. Frankly, I believe we need to do the same thing with this issue that we have had to do and must, in some cases, yet do. We must put aside cultural bias, and search the scriptures.

    Clearly the cultural bias from which we are beginning to emerge has been against any power for women and is rapidly swinging to the opposite extreme. Could the balance point be somewhere in between or could it all be settled by Matthew 28:18-20. Of course that is going to present the same problem that those a couple of centuries ago faced when they began insisting that we should obey God in baptism. We will have to go back and study what Christ taught us to believe and do. It took much searching the scriptures on baptism. It will take much searching the scriptures on this subject also.


  35. Mike

    It won’t surprise you that a few people sent me a link to yesterday’s post. The passive voice in “Jarrod was set up to fail” seems to imply that someone set him up to fail. (I would disagree that he failed.)

    Let me begin with a couple clarifications.

    First, Jarrod didn’t entitle his talk “Our Baptismal Vows.” The title was “Owning Up to Our Baptismal Vows,” and I chose it (as I have written 13 of 14 titles in my first two years at PBL). I’d suggest that’s still a decent title even if he had decided not to mention gender roles. Had the whole lectureship been on just baptism, that might well have been the overall theme.

    Second, I don’t think I’d agree that the lectures “were built around themes from John Mark Hick’s new book.” The book came out at the lectures. When I decided to do a year on baptism and communion, I asked John Mark to be a discussion partner with us. He said he would like to come up with a new book—combining the insights of his previous books on baptism and communion and pushing further with new insights. The lectures were built around seven passages: Matthew 3, Acts 2, Romans 6, Galatians 3, 1 Corinthians 11, John 6, and Luke 24. I didn’t have access to John Mark’s new book when I etched out the main theme lectures. It wasn’t written.

    I disagree with your suggestion that mention of gender roles in a discussion of baptism is inappropriate. That’s representative of the very attitude I was hoping to counter in this lectureship. We tend to focus on the essentiality of baptism. But New Testament writers seem more concerned with its essence: participation in Christ, new creation, transformed living, etc. Our baptism and communion are powerful guides as we discuss mission, unity, discipleship, racial prejudice, salvation, greed, gender roles, hope . . . .

    You think Jarrod “was set up to fail” because his text was 3:26-28 instead of 3:26-29? Really? You think he didn’t know what 29 said or failed to consider that? With some of the texts, I couldn’t decide what to include. E.g., I thought about Romans 6:1-14 but went with the shorter 6:1-4. That’s not to say I thought the speaker would be ignorant of what vss. 5-14 said. Likewise, I went back and forth with whether to go with Gal 3:26-28 or 3:26-29. I was finally persuaded by Richard Hays’s commentary that v. 29 is the concluding word not for that paragraph but for the extended argument in Gal 3. That means 3:26-28 is one of several shorter sub-arguments. Perhaps that’s wrong. But there was no nefarious motive behind it. I studied it long and hard. I think it’s a bit melodramatic to say that choosing 3:26-28 turns “what should be an exposition of Scripture into an agenda-driven talk.”

    Some decent exegetes would agree with Jarrod—Bible scholars like Gordon Fee, Richard Hays, F. F. Bruce, Scot McKnight, John Stackhouse, William Willimon, etc. That doesn’t mean that they (or Jarrod) are right; but it’s to call in question your suggestion that if someone knew a little more about Galatians, they’d know how irrelevant it is to discussions of gender roles.

    Here’s a sample, from Richard Hays, my favorite NT scholar:

    “Thus we see clearly that Paul regards the formula as having practical social implications for the life of the church. In our time, then, our task is analogous to the one that Paul faced. Most of our churches do not face pressure for Gentiles to be circumcised, but we do confront numerous divisions and hostilities between different racial and ethnic groups. Our preaching and our practices must encourage the same reconciliation between (say) black and white Christians that Paul envisioned between ‘Jew and Gentile.’ Likewise, we confront continuing controversies about the full participation of women in the ‘inheritance’ and in the life of the church. As we deal with this issue, we may take our cues from Paul and look back also to the formula of Gal 3:28 as an important starting point for our theological reflection. If we do that, it is not hard to see where our reflection will lead. Those who resist the ordination and leadership of women in the church’s ministry stand in a role analogous to the rival Missionaries, who sought to reinstitute the distinctions and requirements of the old age before Christ’s coming. In the community of the new creation, our oneness in Christ overcomes and delegitimates the distinctions of race, social class, and gender that divided us when we were prisoners under the power of sin. Of course, the practical outworking of this vision of the new creation remains the ongoing task of the church in history as we ‘eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness’ (5:5).”

    Again, perhaps Hays is wrong. But I’d be slow about suggesting that Jarrod’s sermon was little more than an “agenda-driven talk.”

  36. Tim Archer Post author


    Thanks for taking the time to respond. Some of what I said was taken in a sense that I didn’t intend, but that’s the danger of the written word (and to a lesser degree, the spoken word).

    I still think the choice to omit verse 29 was a peculiar one. I’m talking about including the rest of a paragraph, not adding 10 additional verses. Ending with verse 28 clips the Abrahamic tie-in, critical for the discussion about circumcision, critical for understanding the significance of baptism. (You might note that even JMH commented that verse 29 should have been included) [Re-reading, I see where that was Hays’ opinion. I still don’t agree, but I’ll recognize the source.]

    If I said “that if someone knew a little more about Galatians, they’d know how irrelevant it is to discussions of gender roles,” I spoke more strongly than I should have. I can’t find that statement nor anything similar. But you came away with that idea, and for that, I apologize. I do think that reading Galatians 3:28 with a recognition of the discussion of circumcision leads you to a better conclusion… maybe that’s what sounded so arrogant to you. I’ll try and explain that one tomorrow. Was going to do it today, but felt the need to address the broader framework of gender discussion.

    As I told you in Malibu, I thought the lectures were very good. I disagree with Jarrod on his talk, recognizing that I was definitely in the minority on that on the day it was given. That’s why the discussion here.

  37. Mike

    Again, I perhaps should have chosen 3:26-29. Had I been preaching the text, it wouldn’t have mattered what my announced text was. I would have known the full meaning and significance of v. 29 and factored that into my message. (I think Jarrod did the same thing.) As I preach through books, I often make decisions about where to break a text and where to start the next text; but I’d say I always try to know what’s before and what’s after. As I said, I went with the view that says that v. 29 doesn’t complete 3:26-28, but the larger argument in chap 3. Either way, I wouldn’t interpret 3:26-28 to mean something that I thought v. 29 negated.

    Gordon Fee’s powerful examination of this text does include v. 29, but it doesn’t change his belief that it does speak to “gender roles”: “Male and Female in the New Creation: Galatians 3:26-29.” He writes:

    “So where does this bring us in conclusion to a discussion of Galatians 3:28—with its eye-catching addition of slave and free, male and female to the primary issue of Jew and Gentile? The answer lies first with the fact that both the argument of Galatians as a whole and the specifics of this passage itself indicate that this text has to do with Paul’s ecclesiology: what it means to be the people of God under the new covenant brought about through Christ’s death and the gift of the Spirit. Second, it lies with Paul’s new creation theology embedded in this text, which sounds the death knell to the old order, even though its structures remained in the surrounding culture. . . . It seems arguable, therefore, that even though our text does not explicitly mention roles and structures, its new creation theological setting calls these into question in a most profound way. There is no biblical culture (in the sociological sense) that belongs to all human societies. And to give continuing significance to a male-authority viewpoint for men and women, whether at home or in the church, is to reject the new creation in favor of the norms of a fallen world.”

    Again, he may be wrong, but including v. 29 doesn’t somehow prevent him from thinking there are important implications in the text about “gender roles” in God’s new creation.

  38. Tim Archer Post author


    I’m sure you know that multiple responses have been written to Fee’s views. However, you have proven your point that there are respected scholars that see Galatians 3:28 as teaching that men’s and women’s roles are now identical in the church.

    I disagree, and will discuss why over the next few days.

    Grace and peace,

  39. Pingback: Jews, slaves, women, and baptism | Tim Archer's Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts

  40. Pingback: Gender discussions? They’re complicated | The Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts

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