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Arise: I. Howard Marshall

Arise: I. Howard Marshall December 13, 2010

This post is written by Alan Johnson and summarizes a recent panel discussion at ETS, with final comments by I. Howard Marshall. This is Johnson’s summary of Marshall’s comments.

Alan Johnson (ThD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is Emeritus Professor of New Testament and Christian Ethics, Emeritus Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE) at Wheaton College, and editor of How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals.

In the final panel discussion, each author reflected briefly on how the pain and suffering that many women feel when their gifts and callings are muzzled can legitimately lead to correcting our reading and/or application of Scripture. Perhaps the concluding remarks of Professor I. Howard Marshall, from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, will sum up some of these contributions:

Much anguish is felt by women whose God-given talents have been denied expression. This is due to:

1. The inability of complementarians to provide any coherent and persuasive reasons for denying women these positions in church—women are asked to accept a scriptural command simply because it is God’s will even if they cannot understand why it is so.

2. The irrationality of the traditional position. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how the patriarchal/complementarian position glorifies God or fulfils his moral and spiritual purposes for his children.

3. The arbitrariness of the way in which the ruling is put into effect, with all the going beyond what Scripture actually says and the casuistry that is employed regarding the limits of what women may and may not do.

4. The lack of any positive remedy in terms of alternative types of behavior and action that can be taken up by women in the church, since no clear complementarian tasks that women should do but men should not do are proposed.

Is this anguish a legitimate stimulus for asking whether we have interpreted Scripture wrongly? Anguish itself is not necessarily a reason for change but an important symptom that something deeper may be needing attention for good theological and practical reasons.

Our problem is how to understand Scripture in the context of this anguish as people who place ourselves under its authority, and who are perplexed if being scriptural makes us not only unhappy but also irrational in terms of the godly use of our minds.

One partial way ahead is to ask positively what the teaching has to say to us if we extend its application. The teaching addressed to women can and should also be applied to men and vice versa. Men should also act modestly and women should not quarrel when they pray. Is there not a need for submissiveness in learning in all of us? Are male teachers allowed to domineer or act in authoritarian ways? Do husbands and fathers need to devote more attention to their families instead of spending undue time at church?

The biblical teaching was given in the context of a society that was patriarchal. Does not a literal application of the subjection passages produce effects which are rather different from what was originally intended, as when the wearing of a hat is a sign of being fashionable rather than honoring to a husband? What message does the silencing of women teachers and leaders convey?

But a warning may also be needed. All of us, men and women, need to beware lest we be motivated by a worldly desire for success and adulation rather than by a desire to be good servants of a Lord who will give us his ‘well done’. What we are to seek for is a way of living in the church and in marriage that glorifies the Lord and commends the gospel and helps to realize the kingdom of God in an anticipatory manner here in this world and specifically in the church.

There was no spoken opposition to the stories and panel though I know we had some complementarians present. A close friend of mine, who tends toward a complementarian view, said she was deeply impressed with the genuineness of each story teller and the love that seemed to come through so strongly.


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