Monkey Town is Getting an Extreme Makeover!

...Well, at least the “Evolving in Monkey Town” blog is getting one. If things start to look a little weird over the weekend, it’s just because we are working on the transition. (And by “we,” I mean Dan.) I think you guys are going to like the changes, so stay tuned.

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Book Club Discussion: Why the Ladies Rock, Part 2

Transient

Today is our last discussion on Scot McKnight’s excellent book, The Blue Parakeet. (On Monday we will begin The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tyckle.) In the final chapters of the book, McKnight continues his case study on women in church ministries with an intriguing question.

He includes an exercise he has used in a classroom setting in which he isolated the commands from 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and then asked his students to discern whether they thought we should or should not practice them today.

He invites readers to ask themselves, which of these are for today?

1. Males should pray with their hands lifted up(2:8)

2. Males should pray without anger or disputing (2:8)

3. Women should dress modestly (2:9)

4. Women should not have elaborate hairstyles or wear gold pearls and expensive clothing (2:9)

5. Women should have good deeds (2:10)

6. Women should be silent and quiet (2:11,12)

7. Women should not teach or have authority (2:12)

What do you think? If #7 applies, why not #1? If #3 applies, why not #4?

Genesis 3:16: Prescription vs. Prediction

McKnight then addresses how sometimes people use Genesis 3:16 to support the notion that men are to rule over their wives. McKnight writes, “there is a troubling irony in this approach, and it concerns whether we Christians are to live under the conditions of the fall or under the conditions of the new creation...Sadly, some think Genesis 3:16 is a prescription for the relationship of women and men for all time. Instead of a prescription, these two lines are a prediction of the fallen desire of fallen women and fallen men in a fallen condition in a fallen world. Fallen women yearn to dominate the man, and fallen men yearn to dominate women.” (p. 189)

I would add that perhaps the reason the passage predicts that men will in fact dominate is simply because men are physically stronger. Throughout history, men have dominated over women for this reason.

So is this God’s ideal?

New Creation and Mutuality

McKnight contends that “the story of the Bible is the story of new creation in Christ...Newly created followers of Christ can find a better way in mutuality.” (p. 189)

By ignoring the strong leadership roles that women like Deborah and Phoebe and Priscilla played in the Bible (what McKnight calls WDWD passages) because of what Paul said to specific churches about silencing  means reverting to our fallen state rather than our new creation state.

McKnight uses strong language here:

“When men seek to control women by silencing them permanently in the church, we stand face-to-face with a contradiction of the very thing the new creation is designed to accomplish: undo the fall. What we see in this desire to silence women is the desire to rule over women, a desire that pertains to the fall, not to the new creation. What the Spirit does when the Spirit is present is to release and liberate humans from their fallen condition so that God’s will can be completely done. The Spirit creates mutuality. Always.” (p. 190)

Ladies Filled with the Spirit

McKnight reminds readers that, rather than limiting women’s roles, the arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost signaled an expansion of women’s roles. In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter said on the occasion of Pentecost:

“This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel—
In the last days, God says, I will pour my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.” 

The Corinthian Ladies

In light of the WDWD passages  the Pentecost passage, and the many other passages that reference women prophesying ,(Acts 2:17-18; 21:9; I Cor. 11:5), McKnight says we should be surprised by what we find in 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul says, “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

McKnight believes that the focus of this passage is on asking questions, and that the women to which Paul referred were not yet educated theologically or biblically as well as the men. The silencing, then, is only a temporary silencing. (This was, after all, a letter with specific instructions for a specific group of people.)

The Ladies from Ephesus

McKnight applies the same reasoning to the 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in which Paul writes, “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

Again, the context is learning. Writes McKnight, “Paul does not say that women are always to sit in the learning posture and  never to be teachers; he does not say they are forever to remain silent, for that would contradict the WDWD passages and practices of the early churches.”

In other words, first you learn, then you can speak.

The Verses I Don’t Like

Then the Apostle Paul starts talking about how women sinned first and how they can redeem themselves through childbearing. I don’t much care for these verses and would prefer to ignore them, but that would make for an uninteresting blog I suppose.

McKnight admits that these are difficult verses but suggests that Paul may have been responding to a sort of sexual revolution that was occurring in many of the major cities in the Roman empire, one in which women were dressing immodestly,  being promiscuous and maybe even trying to reverse gender roles so that men were subordinate to women.

Also, McKnight contends that Paul had a specific group of women in mind when he wrote these words. A group of young widows (spoken of in 1 Timothy 5:11-12) had some major  behavioral issues. They had a reputation for being promiscuous busybodies, and Paul was concerned about the reputation of the gospel.

Writes McKnight, “we are thus led to the conclusion that when Paul asks women to be silent in 1 Timothy 2, he is not talking about ordinary Christian women; rather, he has a specific group of women in mind. HIs concern is with some untrained, morally loose, young widows, who, because they are theologically unformed, are teaching unorthodox ideas.” (p. 202)

Now I think I’m mad at those ladies instead of Paul. : ) They've managed to make life hard for a lot of Christian women for a lot of years!

Conclusion

McKnight concludes:

“The plot of the Bible, the story of the Bible, and the behaviors of women in that Plot and Story reveal to me that an increasing expansion of women in church ministries. Some of the restrictions were based on respectability and culture. If those restrictions have changed, then I see no reason to limit the ministries of women to the sensibilities and cultures of that time. God spoke in those days in those ways, and I believe he is speaking in our days in our ways.” (p. 204)

He reminds readers that the main reason Paul gave many of these commands was so that the gospel did not get a bad reputation. Women covered their heads because, in that culture, it would have been considered offensive for them not to. How, then should we apply these passages in a culture where it is offensive to limit the rights of women?

McKnight appeals to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 about the importance of becoming all things to all people for the sake of the gospel and asks, “Do you think Paul would have put women ‘behind the pulpit’ if it would have been advantageous for the sake of the gospel?”

I can’t imagine anyone saying no to that.

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Book Club Discussion: Why the Ladies Rock, Part 1

For the next two days we will be discussing Scot McKnight’s case study in the “Blue Parakeet”—women in church leadership. Today we will look at Chapters  11, 12, and 13, which address some general issues related to the topic and tackle the WDWD question—what did women do in the Bible?  (The answer might surprise you!) On Thursday, we discuss Chapter 14 and 15 which deal specifically with those biblical passages often used to support restricting women’s roles in the church.

Three Views

Let’s take a moment to define our  terms. Most discussions on women in the church include three broad categories of thought: hard patriarchysoft patriarchy, and egalitarian.

The hard patriarchy view generally requires women to submit to their husbands and to male leadership in the church in all things, and forbids women from taking leadership in the church or society.

Those with a soft patriarchy view generally believe that “the biblical context is cultural but the principles are permanent,” affirming the importance of submission and gender rules, allowing for women to work outside the home, but discouraging women from  teaching or leading men in any way in the church—especially as senior pastors or preachers.

The egalitarian view (which McKnight calls a “mutuality” view) liberates women from the tradition “because it believes the biblical context is cultural and that even the biblical teachings reflect that culture.” (p. 161)

McKnight’s Background

McKnight begins with a series of anecdotes about how he came to embrace an egalitarian view. Raised in a traditional family and in a fundamentalist church, McKnight held what might be called a soft patriarchal view until he entered the world of Christian education.

Studying for his doctorate at Cambridge, he began to appreciate the scholarship of his female professors, concluding that “anyone who thinks it is wrong for a woman to teach in a church can be consistent with that point of view only if they refuse to read and learn from women scholars.” (p. 148)

As a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, McKnight tried to avoid entering debates about women in church ministry. In the Blue Parakeet he actually asks for forgiveness from his female students for not taking a stronger stand. “Unintentionally or intentionally,” he says, “these women were suppressed from exercising their gifts and have been barred from ministries...”(p. 150)

One of these women was Cheryl Hatch, a student of McKnight’s who was incredibly intelligent, spiritually mature, and a great speaker and leader. Even though she was a star student, Cheryl couldn’t find a pastoring job after graduating, simply because she was a woman. For McKnight, “Cheryl was a blue parakeet.”

McKnight spends the next five chapters arguing that “we should let the blue parakeets sing,”  that “in reading the Bible with tradition instead of through tradition, we are set free both to respect and challenge that tradition.” (156) As always, the most important thing to keep in mind when reading the Bible, he says, is the phrase “that was then, but this is now.”

Reminder: Men wrote the Bible 

In Chapter 11, Mcknight reminds readers that the Bible was written by men from a distinctively male perspective in an incredibly patriarchal society. Asks McKnight, “Do we seek to retrieve that cultural world and those cultural expressions, or do we live the same gospel in a different way in a different day?” (159)

Creation and New Creation

McKnight believes that the mutuality (or egalitarian) view taps into the “oneness-otherness-oneness” theme of the Bible’s redemptive story that he introduced earlier in the book. Regarding Genesis 1-3, McKnight writes that “God created male and female as mutuals—made for each other—and they were at one with each other.” The fall distorted this by turning them against one another, each desiring dominance over the other.

Writes McKnight, “sadly, the church has far too often perpetuated the fall as a permanent condition. Perpetuating the fall entails failing to restore creation conditions when it comes to male and female relationships. This is against both Jesus and Paul, who each read the Bible as a story that moves from creation (oneness) to new creation (new oneness). “ (p. 16)

Here he quotes Paul, who said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ. ” Paul is contending that life in Christ creates unity, equality, and oneness—a return to Eden.

What Did Women Do?

Considering the patriarchal society in which the Bible was written, McKnight says that women should be encouraged by the strong women of the Bible. (Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Priscilla, Junia, Phebe, Mary, and many more.) These women prophesized, taught, were apostles,  were mentors, and more.

McKnight uses two catchphrases in order to draw some distinctions throughout the next few chapters :WDWD-What Did Women Do, and WKSP-Women Keep Silent Passages.

Writes McKnight:

“No matter how seriously you take the WKSPs, it is profoundly unbiblical to let those passages overcome the WDWDs so that all we have left is silenced and caged blue parakeets! Whatever Paul meant by silence, he did not mean to say that the WDWD passages were now obsolete. The silence, in fact, is biblical only if it permits women to do today what women can be found doing in the WDWDs!” (p. 165)

So, what did women do?

McKnight highlights:

  • Miriam – spiritual leader, prophet (Exodus 15:21) (When Micah spoke of Israel’s deliverance, he referenced THREE leaders in Israel, “I brought you up out of Egypt...I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” (Micah 6:4)
  • Deborah – prophet, judge, national leader (Judges 4-5) [McKnight says, “if we ask what did women do, and we ask this question of Deborah, we learn that women could speak for God as a prophet, render decisions n a law court as a judge, exercise leadership over the entire spiritual-social Israel, and be a military commander who brought Israel to victory.” (169)
  • Huldah – prophet above the Prophets (2 Kings 22) Josiah consults Huldah when he could have consulted Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, or Habakkuk.
  • Mary, the Mother of Jesus – After acknowledging that Protestants don’t talk about Mary as much as they should, McKnight reminds readers that “Mary influenced her messianic Son, her New -Testament-writing son James, and provided information to Luke as seeds for stories that go his gospel off to a great start.” (p. 179)
  • Junia – an “outstanding apostle” (Romans 16:7) [There was actually a cover-up in subsequent translations to make Junia into Junias, a male name.]
  • Priscilla – teacher of scripture and theology (Acts 18: 18, 19, 26; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19).
  • Phoebe – a deacon and benefactor (Romans 16:1-2) – McKnight himself clarifies that Phoebe was not a DECONESS (in charge of kitchen duty and baby showers) but an actual DECON.

So if the Bible allows women to do all of these things, why did Paul speak of silencing women in public assemblies?

We’ll get to that in the next post.

All I can say is I just loved these chapters. I desperately wish that young women in today’s evangelical churches learned about these women from the Bible more often.  I felt especially drawn to Deborah’s words from Judges 5, “I, even I, will sing to the Lord.”

Some questions for you: Which view best describes your background—hard patriarchy, soft patriarchy, or egalitarian? Which view best describes your position now? What led you to that view? And--the million dollar question--why do you think that many evangelical churches today forbid women from taking on the very same roles assumed by Deborah and Huldah and Priscilla and Phoebe?

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Call For Guest Writers/ What Movie Should I See?

I’m working on a series of posts about women in the church to conclude our discussion about Scot McKnight’s “The Blue Parakeet.” Look for the first one on Wednesday night.  In the meantime, I’d like to extend an invitation for possible guest posts from readers.

My book is kicking my butt right now, and I could use a little help for the next few weeks as I finish up the manuscript. We have a lot of smart people posting a lot of smart comments, so if you’ve got something on your mind that you’d like to turn into a post, please contact me. I’m especially interested in short, scholarly material written by folks who know more than me about postmodern philosophy, politics, church and state issues, theology, etc.  Also, I absolutely love personal stories that describe how your faith has changed over the years. If you’re interested, please contact me. Of course, I reserve the right to pass if I don’t think it fits the tone or purpose of the blog.

You might not have an opinion about post-foundationalism or hermeneutics, but I bet you can help me decide what movie to see with Dan this weekend. We’ll probably see Slumdog Millionaire, but if it’s full, or we decide to do a double-feature, what would you suggest?

Benjamin Button? Valkyrie? That sappy one about the dog?

Also, if you’ve seen Slumdog, tell me what you thought of it. Having been to India myself, I think I'm going to enjoy it.

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Book Club Discussion: Discernment or Hypocrisy... or a Bit of Both?

Part 3 of The Blue Parakeet addresses what author Scot McKnight refers to as “patterns of discernment” for reading the Bible. McKnight has already established the fact that we all pick and choose (or adopt and adapt) when reading and applying Scripture. Here he seeks to analyze how and why we do it.

[Aside: Anyone who still thinks that good Christians do not pick and choose, and wants to continue to argue this point, must answer the following questions before posting a comment: #1 Have you sold all of your belongings and given them to them to the poor? (Matthew 19:23-24) #2 Do you recite the Lord’s Prayer every time you pray? (Luke 11:2) If you answer yes to both, then you may post a comment about how you do not pick and choose...which will no doubt be a challenge, seeing as you have no computer.]

Anyway, according to McKnight, adopting and adapting is nothing to be ashamed of. He writes, “...It is my belief that we—the church—have always read the Bible in a picking and choosing way. Somehow, someway we have formed patterns of discernment that guide us.” (p. 123)

According to McKnight, how one discerns is heavily influenced by his or her local church, denominational affiliation, and culture. (I suppose we “postmodern” folks might call these interpretive communities.) He acknowledges that this results in both diversity and disagreement.

Using several compelling examples from church history, as well contemporary debates, McKnight identifies several patterns of discernment.

For example, the Apostle Paul’s incredibly controversial statement that circumcision was not necessary for Christian converts, that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value...the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love,” represents a pattern of discernment that McKnight calls “theological development.”

He writes, “In other words, ‘that theology was then, but this theology is now.’”(136)

Another example comes from 1 Peter, where women are instructed to avoid elaborate hairstyles, gold jewelry and fine clothing. Several readers in a previous post applied the same pattern of discernment that McKnight identifies. Several of you concluded that the best way to apply this teaching to our day and culture is to encourage women to dress modestly and avoid wearing fancy, expensive clothes that might create cultural barriers between themselves and others in the church or community. McKnight writes that “this pattern of discernment might be called the deeper principle. This approach knows that the principle is transcultural.” (p. 138)

A third example concerns cosmology. While our cosmology is helio-centric (sun-centered), the Bible’s is clearly geo-centric (earth-centered). Obviously, most Christians do not believe that the earths sits atop a stable foundation with pillars or that there are four literal corners of the earth (Job 9:5, 38:4-7; Proverbs 8:27-29; Revelation 7:1). Writes McKnight, “The pattern of discernment here is simply growth in knowledge, scientific and otherwise.”

(I wonder if we should discuss the possibility of applying this pattern of discernment to Genesis 1?)

A fourth example concerns the death penalty, which is often hotly contested within Christian communities. “The pattern of discernment for those who oppose capital punishment,” says McKnight, “combines social progress, historical development, legal development, and the theological development that climaxes with Jesus’ own teaching.”

McKnight also examines controversial subjects like speaking in tongues and divorce, examining the different patterns of discernment applied to those issues. 

These chapters represent a lot of what I like about Scot McKnight. He addresses messy, controversial issues with clarity, candor, and humility. He doesn’t reveal exactly where he stands on each issue, but presents both sides fairly. His point seems to be to start a conversation, to identify patterns of discernment so that we are aware of them, rather than trying to insist that there is one right way to discern.

Writes McKnight: “It is my belief that most Christians and churches do operate within a pattern of discernment, but it is rarely openly admitted and even more rarely clarified. Discernment, I am arguing, is how we have always read the Bible; in fact, it is how biblical authors themselves read the Bible they had! I want to begin a conversation among Bible readers about this very topic: What pattern of discernment is at work among us?” (p. 144)

When I ask myself that question, I certainly think of some of McKnight's examples, several of which are good examples of what I consider to be wise discernment. We've often used these approaches in our discussions here on the blog. (For example, I think that most of us have established a common pattern of discernment in agreeing that God's command concerning mixed fibers in Leviticus 19 is culturally specific and need not be applied literally today. However, there has been some disagreement among us about whether God's commands concerning homosexuality in the same passage do indeed apply. We have some competing patterns of discernment here, which have made for interesting conversations.)

But when I ask myself what patterns of discernment I observe in my life and in the life of the church, I can't help but add another, less flattering pattern to McKnight's list. It seems to me that a  lot of us pick and choose, (or adopt and adapt) based on comfort levels. In other words, I’d argue that one of the most common discernment patterns is psychological. It goes something like this: “I don’t like it, so I don’t think it applies,” or, “that verse condemns someone else’s behavior, not mine, so it does apply.”

So does this make me a hopeless cynic?

I know that McKnight is trying to highlight ways in which we discern wisely, and I believe that many people do in fact try to discern wisely in many situations, but I also think that sometimes what masquerades as “discernment” is nothing better than hypocrisy.

When was the last time we took the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of gossip and arrogance as seriously as we take his condemnation of homosexuality? I myself like to think that Jesus didn’t really mean it when he said “every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” I look for ways to “discern” that little verse away, if you konw what I mean. :)

In the end, I think that we adopt and adapt with mixed motives and that it’s important to recognize this.Sometimes our prejudices and biases can get in the way of wise discernment.

So, what do you think? What patterns of discernment do you observe? Which ones have affected your life most profoundly? Which ones do you struggle with the most?

Be sure to check in next week for what should be an interesting conclusion to our discussion of The Blue Parakeet. McKnight uses as a case study women in church ministry. Knowing this group, this should get interesting!

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