Book Club Discussion: Why the Ladies Rock, Part 1

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

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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