How They Changed Their Mind about Women

How They Changed Their Mind about Women January 17, 2011

Alan Johnson, well-known and much-loved professor at Wheaton, has edited a collection of stories of well-known evangelicals who have in their own ways changed when it comes to women in ministry. His book has a great title: How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals. Every person who is either “for” or “against” increased roles of women in leadership needs to read these stories. Before I get to the names and the stories, I want to sketch Dallas Willard’s introduction.

First a question: Who wants to tell a story about change? What were the “factors” that led you to shift your mind on women in ministry? What do you think of Dallas Willard’s three points?

Dallas Willard, in fact, didn’t change his mind because he always believed in the legitimacy of women in leadership in the church. He grew up in churches where both men and women taught — though the preaching pastors were male. Dallas thinks the passages used by the complementarians are not “principles” but expressions of the principle that all Christians should be all things to all people. (I don’t entirely agree with that term the term “complementarian” is accurate for those who use it since I think most everyone would want men and women to work together for the gospel in a complementarian way. More importantly, that term today means “hierachicalist in role.”)

Willard makes three points:

1. Those gifted by God for any ministry should serve in the capacity of that gift and churches (“human arrangements”) should facilitate their service. There is no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that gifts are distributed along gender lines. Go ahead and read the gift passages — says 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5, 1 Pet 4 — and show how gifts are connected to gender.
2. It is misleading to deal with this issue along the lines of rights and equality alone. When it comes to talents and gifts people aren’t “equal” and it’s not about “rights” but about gifts and our obligations.
3. Excluding women leaves women generally with the impression that there is something wrong with them. They may be mistaken in that but Willard makes the important observation that if God excludes them there must be some very good reason — God doesn’t just flip coins. And the so-called complementarians can’t find clear passages where such things are clearly taught.

And I would add my own two cents here. A fundamental principle in Bible interpretation is that we can’t read the “restrictive” passages in the New Testament in ways that fundamentally deny what the NT shows that women are already doing. I wrote about this in The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.

Now back to How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals by Alan Johnson. Those who tell their stories are John Armstrong, Ruth Haley Barton, Gil Bilezikian, Stuart and Jill Briscoe, Tony Campolo, Robert and Alice Fryling, Stan Gundry, Bill and Lynne Hybels, Alan Johnson, Walt and Olive Liefeld, I. Howard Marshall, Alice Mathews, Roger Nicole, John and Nancy Ortberg, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Carol and James Plueddemann, Minette Drumwright Pratt, Ron Sider, John Stackhouse Jr., John Bernard Taylor and Bonnie Wurzbacher.

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