Women in Ministry Blitz Begins

Women in Ministry Blitz Begins December 31, 2012

The response, feedback, and debate stemming from Zondervan’s ebook series Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry has formally begun. Its causing a bit of a stir in Evangelical Anglican circles in Sydney and round about (wonder if Kath Keller is getting as much air time as Dicko and I are?).

Some reviews include:

Tamie Davis at Meet Jesus at Uni

Craig Schwarz at his blog These Infinite Spaces here, here, and here.

Dan Patterson at Otherness

But the biggest opening salvoes come from Moore Theological College faculty with Principal Elect Mark Thompson and head of the NT Department Peter Bolt heading up the rejoinders. These two criticisms do not engage the content of Dickson’s and my arguments, they are more like prima facie remarks in a court case, which set forth ad hominem arguments against the defendents (now remember, in rhetoric, there are two species of ad hominem arguments, the aggressive and the circumstantial; the duo are not making aggressive ad hominem arguments [e.g., Bird and Dickson are liberal whackos so just ignore them], but Thompson and Bolt both appeal to a set of particular circumstances that will negatively dispose their implied reader against the authors, yet without having to engage the substance of the author’s arguments – that’s what I mean by ad hominem).

Thompson (who I have engaged with in private correspondence and has graciously responded)  raises concerns about general egalitarian arguments that import historical reconstruction and theological categories over the plain reading of the text; the general danger of capitulating to cultural trends; and urges readers to be wary of anyone claiming a “fresh” interpretation of anything.  I actually agree with these points and thus fail to see how it impugns anything that I say in the ebook. In fact, I am all the more perplexed because I explicitly say much the same in the book! Coming to Bolt (Peter Bolt was my gracious doctoral examiner) wants to situate the ebooks in the genre of “Shift Story” analagous to William Dever and Bart Ehrman’s stories of their deconversion from faith (Mike Bird and Bart Ehrman is quite a juxtaposition). He equates changing one’s mind with Eph 4:14 and being tossed and blown around by waves and winds.  But I protest on the grounds as to whether people who changed their minds from egalitarian to complementarian like Al Mohler or Kath Keller could be construed as being similarly tossable and immature. Also, I think Eph 4:14 refers to people who are erratic and lacking maturity, you know, Calvinist one day, Arminian the next, then Greek Orthodox, then join a Richard Simmons weight loss clinic, then Independent Baptist, we know these people, they are fickle and easily fooled; but I hardly equate changing one’s mind a little bit on one issue with theological capriciousness (some still call me a complementarian for goodness sake!)  Again, I’m not sure how much mileage that criticism actually scores about what I actually say in the ebook. Bolt claims that change is good, as long as the change takes one towards  “truth, peace, God’s good order, life as we were created to be and for which Christ redeems us.” But that is precisely what Dickson and I would claim we have moved towards in changing our views. In any case, the charge, “He changed his mind,” does not strike me as a convincing rebutal about anything. But more will no doubt follow. Would be wonderful if we could have a day at the Priscilla and Aquilla Centre to set out these views with respondents and get into the ducks guts of the issues.

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  • Ian Thomason

    G’day, Mike.

    Given your recent move to teaching in a confessional Anglican college environment, it seems altogether providential that you’ll be at Ridley rather than Moore. I trust that Dr Rosner will prove supportive of your points-of-view concerning women in ministry; perhaps more so than potentially would be the case from his former peers at Moore.

    God bless,


  • Tom

    I have not had a chance to read any of these three titles, but I wonder if there is a conversation worth having about our attraction to “Shift Stories” as a standard narrative for evangelical-aimed publishing. I say evangelical-aimed because it is seems to be a common denominator between books written by evangelicals- such as these three just published- and by those who would describe themselves as former believers who have jumped ship and want to encourage others to do the same.

    My hunch is that both the effectiveness and the potential pitfall of this trope lies in its resonance with our society’s particular desire to deconstruct the old and see ourselves as liberated from the errors of our parents/teachers. I say this as someone who has a tendancy to describe my own movement from strong egalitarianism to moderate complementarianism in terms of a shift story. Of course there is something normal about wanting to grow- particularly as a Christian growing in the likeness of Christ- but “Shift Stories” tap into our generation’s particular disillusionment with the old.

    Evangelical “Shift Stories” can be to the right or the left. But they work because they resonate with wider society’s love of overturning the old. Even in becoming more conservative I can be imitating society’s pattern of shaking off the shackles of the old.

    Not only that the “Shift Story” is heroicly, admirably authentic: rather than being defined by the assumptions of the surrounding culture (Christian or non-Christian) the protagonist chooses to struggle with the difficult questions privately and then face social dislocation as they voice them publicly. It is an attractive narrative and one that the post-modern reader is particularly drawn to.

    And all that makes for attractive apologetics/lucrative publishing, for good or for ill. I guess it might be why whenever someone asks about what I think about men and women in ministry I tend to, consciously or unconsciously, slip in fairly early on some indication that this was not always my position. Why? Because the “journey” is the ultimate sugar coat to any argument: even if I don’t like what I am hearing it is more likely to hold my attention and sympathy.

    But I think there are downsides to this way of packaging that might make us think twice about using this genre too often- and this applies to my personal apologetics as much as book-writing:

    First, by resonating with post-modernism’s love of deconstruction its over-use risks reinforcing that posture of suspicion towards the old among Christians. The Bible is of course even more realistic about the human capacity for prejudice and self-delusion than postmodernism and equally as willing to deconstruct and yet at the same time fully aware of God’s grace: His common grace that means that whereas the old may be critiqued it must still be humbly listened to as containing wisdom as well as folly; His redeeming grace that means that the previous generation of believers have a pattern of faith to pass on to us, even while calling us to ongoing testing for blindspots and misconceptions. The problem with ape-ing society’s love of “Shift Stories” is that we risk exaccerbating this obscuring of God’s ongoing grace. Might we make a point of sharing a few more “Batton-passing Stories”.

    Second, “Shift Stories” naturally find their traction in hot-topics. The question being addressed is something like “Should women preach?” rather than “What does it mean to be men and women serving God in the church?”. Now of course the best of this genre do not stop at the first attention-grabbing question but move through it to the seond deeper one. I wonder, however, if this genre becomes our standard mode of operation whether we end up reinforcing the idea that the first question is the more vital one to answer, when of course the second is the trunk of the tree and the first a branch. The natural product of this would seem to be Christians very good at holding opinions on issues but not very clear on how they see reality and therefore live in it. The first question sound like the more practical kind but on the whole it would seem to prepare one for arguments rather than for practical living.

  • An unwillingness to change one’s mind is immaturity and hubris. Nothing more. Certainly people who get tossed about as if they have no anchor are immature and foolish in their own way. However, anyone who views changing their mind in light of evidence as a problem as described in Ephesians 4:14 is bound to be a much bigger problem. People who can’t settle also can’t lead. But people who would, as my mother once put it, “rather be wrong than change their mind” often do lead.

    No matter how hard we try to pin down the text of scripture and understand it, there will always be things which we don’t understand, thought we understood despite being wrong, came to conclusions about based on incomplete or faulty information. A person whose theology says that bowing to evidence of one’s own error is somehow unfaithful has WAY too much confidence in themselves (and oddly enough they often mistake that for confidence in God). God created reality. Reality cannot be a threat to God. But reality can be a threat to our understanding of God. Of course, this isn’t so much of a problem if you have the good sense not to conflate your own understanding with God’s reality.

    Perhaps this is me being ungracious, but anyone who views changing one’s mind regarding religion and theology as in and of itself a problem has no credibility in my eyes. Such a person is completely unfit to lead and teach. Of course, as I said before, all too often that is exactly what such people do. It’s unfortunately, really.

  • taizegoose

    Reminds me of a joke: How many Sydney Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb? “Change?!?”

  • Timothy

    I thought that David Peterson of Moore had egalitarian views re women in ministry. Does this mean that there is a lively debate going on at Moore rather than there being one enforced view?

  • You can read Craig Schwarz’s review on his blog: http://creative2567.blogspot.com.au/