Egalitarianism – suggested resources

Some Resources to Explore Egalitarianism

I’m taking a brief hiatus from my series on egalitarianism (I’m in the midst of teaching an intensive modular course on theological anthropology).

But I thought I’d take the opportunity to post some recommended resources for those wishing to explore the egalitarian position for themselves.

Here’s a list to get you started. It’s not exhaustive, but these resources have been helpful for me and provide a good introductory overview:

  1. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, edited by Pierce and Groothius (Intervarsity Press, 2004).
  2. Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender by John Stackhouse (Baker, 2005).
  3. As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission by Alan Padgett (Baker, 2011).
  4. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William J. Webb (IVP Academic, 2001).
  5. Beyond the Curse by Aida B. Spencer (Thomas Nelson, 1985).
  6. Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present by Ruth A. Tucker and Walter Liefeld (Zondervan, 1987).
  7. Christians for Biblical Equality website. Includes a number of free articles, a bookstore, and other resources.
  8. Priscilla Papers: the academic journal published by Christians for Biblical Equality.

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Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian (part 6)

Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian

Part 6: Redemptive Movement

In my last post, I argued that both the complementarian and egalitarian positions employ interpretive strategies when they appeal to the Bible to support and defend their views. It is important to grasp this, because anyone can easily amount a list of ‘proof texts’ in support of a given position.

The more difficult questions are: Does one’s interpretive strategy (or set of strategies) sufficiently integrate all of the relevant biblical texts? What about those that don’t easily lend support to one’s view or perhaps even seemingly contradict it? On what basis has one chosen and ranked controlling or central texts in relation to perceived peripheral texts or anomalies? We inevitably read certain texts in light of other texts that we regard as more central, but how is one even to distinguish what is central from what is peripheral? For example, should we read 1 Timothy 2:12 in light of Galatians 3:28 or vice-versa? More broadly, should we read the egalitarian proof texts as central and the complementarian proof texts as peripheral, or the other way around?

The point I am making is that one must make an interpretive choice. This is unavoidable. And, perhaps frustratingly for some, the Bible does not tell us in a straight forward manner how to make that choice. Simply citing more texts than the other position does not make one’s own view more persuasive. One must also offer a more convincing framework or paradigm within which all of the relevant texts fit coherently. Not that one can (or even should) eliminate all ambiguity, but a good interpretive strategy does aim to minimize perceived difficulties, contradictions, and incoherencies.

One paradigm that I have found helpful is the ‘redemptive-movement hermeneutic’ developed by William Webb (a ‘hermeneutic’ is a lens through which one reads Scripture). Webb argues that one cannot simply proceed directly from biblical texts to theological, ethical, political, or practical positions. Before we can do this, we need to know something about the ancient historical contexts in which the biblical were written and addressed. We also need to be aware of movement within the Bible on an issue in question, both within each testament and movement from the OT to the NT. Finally, we need to recognize that the Bible does not always give us the last word on a particular issue. Rather, what it often does is initiate a trajectory, a ‘redemptive movement,’ that must be developed theologically in order to posit an ultimate ethic. Here is a visual depiction of Webb’s approach, which I’ve reproduced from his website linked here.

XYZ-Principle-JPEGWebb has applied his redemptive-movement hermeneutic to several examples. One is slavery. Strictly speaking, the Bible does not advocate a fully developed abolitionist position, such as that advocated by William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement. It also lacks a modern understanding of human rights, as set out for example in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. Paul assumes the givenness of slavery as a cultural institution and tells slaves to obey their masters (Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22). He does say that if slaves can gain their freedom they should do so, and he does suggest to Philemon that he receive Onesimus back as a brother and not a slave, but nowhere does Paul declare outright that slavery is intrinsically evil, an affront to human dignity and a violation of basic human rights. Contemporary readers often assume that the Bible is simply against slavery, but that is because we read it in light of modern developments. We fail to appreciate that earlier interpreters did not find the Bible’s teaching on this matter to be so clear (during the time of the American civil war, for example, abolitionists had a very difficult time convincing their opponents that the Bible was against slavery).

What the Bible does do is set in motion a redemptive trajectory of liberation, which begins to subvert and openly question the institution of slavery. This movement begins in the Old Testament. Compared with other nations in the Ancient Near East, Israel’s treatment of slaves was more humane. The OT assumed slavery, but advocated for better treatment of slaves and sought to mitigate the abuse of slaves. The NT continues the movement began in the OT. Its primary focus is on spiritual freedom in Christ, but it applies this new spiritual freedom in Christ in ways that begin to undermine the very idea of slavery. To construct a fully abolitionist perspective, we need to recognize the redemptive movement found within Scripture and develop it theologically. Finally, we might even posit an ultimate ethic to move toward, which envisions the elimination of slavery across the globe, as well as improved working conditions, maximization of wages, and harmony, mutual respect, and unified purpose within organizations and economic structures.1 So, we begin with the seeds planted within Scripture and develop them theologically, ethically, politically, and socially.

We can observe the same kind of redemptive movement at work in the Bible’s stance toward women. Ancient cultures surrounding the people of God often advocated a strong patriarchy that included many abuses of women. In the OT, we find a moderate patriarchy with fewer abuses. In the NT we find a stronger endorsement of women’s equality (both in Jesus and in Paul). In our present culture, we find a significantly improved status for women and an emphasis on individual rights, autonomy, and self-fulfilment. Finally, on the basis of this received trajectory, we might posit an ultimate ethic, which envisions interdependence, mutuality, and a servant-like attitude in all relationships.2

Webb also applies his redemptive movement hermeneutic to other topics, including the Bible’s treatment of corporal punishment (spanking) and, most recently, the Bible’s perspective on violence, war, and peace (forthcoming book). His basic insights apply to many other issues as well, where the Bible gives us some initial cues and establishes a redemptive trajectory but does not yet establish a fully satisfying ethic. For example, the Bible does not assume a democratic form of government, or a free market system of economics, or universal health care provided by the state, or modern ethical concepts such as inalienable human rights in political ethics, informed consent in medical ethics, or the kinds of ethical checks and balances required by modern business and accounting practices. All of these modern ideas are developments of seeds, principles, and trajectories found within Scripture. Moreover, for each of them, an ultimate ethic still lies ahead and requires further theoretical development and practical realization.

To sum up, how does all of this help the egalitarian position? Well, Webb’s redemptive movement approach assumes that Scripture’s teaching about women in ministry and leadership will be mixed. How could it not be? Its authors were writing within the context of an ancient society that was thoroughly patriarchal. BUT, there is much evidence within Scripture to support the view that the biblical authors planted redemptive egalitarian seeds and initiated a subversive, redemptive movement toward the full equality of women and men in the church. We need to recognize this movement, cultivate those seeds, and develop them theologically in order to draw out their full implications for equality.

Was Paul an egalitarian in the modern sense? No, not quite. But given his patriarchal historical context, he did teach and model a way of life that was deeply subversive of his culture’s gender inequality. And he is part of a broader biblical movement (including the OT, Jesus, and other NT writers) that set in motion a trajectory that leads to an ultimate ethic of full equality for women in church and society. The egalitarian position fits within this paradigm very well.


1 William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 37.
2 Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, 38.

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Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian (part 5)

Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian

Part 5: Interpretive Strategies

hebrew-bibleMy last two posts identified 10 examples of women serving in ministry and leadership positions in the Bible. The Spirit called these women to serve God through teaching, preaching, prophesying, encouraging, ministering or serving, leading, governing, and overseeing other leaders. I believe that these examples lend powerful support to the egalitarian position.

Now, the trouble with listing examples is that one could just as easily come up with a list of counter examples to support the complementarian position (1 Tim. 2:8-15 is a common counter text). So, listing examples or proof texts from Scripture is not going to clinch the argument either way.

This is why I have long thought that the key to resolving the debate over women in leadership in the church lies with hermeneutics (interpretation) and biblical ethics, not with exegesis (analyzing particular passages) and proof texting. Of course, the relationship between text, interpretation, and application is complex. One’s exegesis ought to inform one’s interpretive strategy. Yet one never reads the Bible or performs exegesis without some interpretive framework, or at least a bunch of interpretive assumptions, already in place. For example, my belief that God exists and intends to communicate with believers through the Bible always impacts how I read it, even if a particular passage I’m working with does not say that explicitly.

The key question then, given the examples and counter-examples about women in leadership in the Bible, is: How do I integrate these various viewpoints into a coherent whole? Stated differently, what is my interpretive strategy? Then we must ask: Does my interpretive strategy make sense of the biblical data in a coherent and consistent way? Does it account for all of the facts and does it explain the anomalies or counter-texts satisfactorily?

Egalitarianism and complementarianism are both interpretive strategies. They are lenses through which believers read and reflect on the biblical text. Both, I believe, are seeking to be faithful to the Bible. But—it must be stressed—both are engaged in interpreting. Both rely on interpretive assumptions and employ an overarching interpretive strategy to argue that the Bible supports their position.

In light of this, I don’t think that the most helpful question is: Which position is correct and which is in error? Given the complexity of the biblical data, that’s just too simplistic. It’s more a question of better fit and clarity. Which strategy ‘fits’ better? Or, which interpretive lens brings higher clarity and allows one to ‘see’ more effectively? N. T. Wright has used the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle. Which interpretive strategy uses the most number of puzzle pieces to create the most beautiful and coherent picture? (A picture that looks fine but leaves 20 pieces in the box might not be the best in terms of overall fit.)

This question of fittingness is not unique to the issue of women in leadership in the church. It’s one that arises for all theological doctrines, particularly in their development in history. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity is not taught in the Bible explicitly and in a straight-forward manner. You will not find the word “Trinity” or phrases like “one God in three persons” or “one substance and three hypostases” in Scripture. Rather, a Trinitarian lens integrates and makes sense of the Bible’s overarching narrative recording the one God’s self revelation as Father, Son, and Spirit. I like how Alister McGrath puts it: the doctrine of the Trinity developed in light of “reflection on the pattern of divine activity revealed in Scripture, and continued in Christian experience . . . Scripture bears witness to a God who demands to be understood in a Trinitarian manner” (Christian Theology, 5th Edition).

My view is that the egalitarian interpretive strategy is superior to the complementarian interpretive strategy. It is the better lens for interpreting Scripture. It accounts best for the facts of Scripture while making sense of apparent anomalies. It is the better fit, aligning our reading of the Bible with Christian experience and our discernment of the Holy Spirit’s leading and gifting.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore how the egalitarian interpretive strategy clarifies our reading of the overall narrative of Scripture and accounts for the so-called “problem texts” or anomalies with respect to the gender debate.

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Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian (part 4)

Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian

Part 4: Women as Leaders in the Bible (NT)



Today I continue my list of ten significant women in the Bible. Last week, I wrote about 5 women in the Old Testament: Eve, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, and Huldah.

Here are five significant women who were leaders in the church in the New Testament:


  1. Junia the Apostle: In Romans 16:7, Paul refers to the woman Junia as “outstanding among the apostles” and as one who was “in Christ before I [Paul] was.” Of Junia, Scot McKnight writes “she was in essence a Christ-experiencing, Christ-representing, church-establishing, probably miracle-working, missionizing woman who preached the gospel and taught the church.”1
  2. Euodia and Syntyche, Evangelists (Phil. 4:2-3). These women are described as “co-labourers” with Paul “in the gospel.” This is significant. “These women were gospel workers ‘with’ or alongside Paul . . . gospel work is about preaching, teaching, evangelizing, and pastorally shaping. One cannot infer specifics of what Euodia and Syntyche did, but we know it was within this set of categories: they were gospelers.”2 Other “co-labourers” included such figures as Apollos, Silas, Titus, Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy, Philemon, Mark, and Luke.
  3. Priscilla the Teacher: Priscilla and her husband Aquila appear in 4 New Testament passages (Acts 18; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19). Their names occur together 7 times in the NT and Priscilla’s name is mentioned first in 6 of those 7 occasions (i.e, her name has the emphasis). After hearing the preaching of Apollos, who would later become an influential leader and evangelist, Priscilla and Aquila invited him to their home and “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26). Paul refers to Priscilla as a “co-lobourer in Christ Jesus.” He goes out of his way to greet Priscilla and Aquila, or to pass on their greetings to others, in 3 of his letters. We also learn that Priscilla and her husband led a church in their home.
  4. The Prophesying Daughters of Philip: Acts 21:8-9 tells us that the evangelist Philip had 4 daughters who were known to prophesy. This is a short passage and not much detail is given. But it is significant, because Paul highly valued prophesy as a leadership gift in the church. Consider his words in 1 Corinthians 14:3-4: “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.” The gift of prophecy is closely related to the gift of teaching and serves to instruct and edify the church.
  5. Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2): Paul refers to Phoebe as a deacon (literally ‘minister’) in the church. Deacons serve with ‘overseers’ in the church in a variety of ways. Paul also refers to her as a ‘benefactor’ and she may have been the first to read the letter to the Romans in public.3

While I focused on these five for their influence on the development of the church, there are of course many more I could have mentioned: Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who had a tremendous influence on both Jesus and his brother James (who became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem and wrote the NT book of James); Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who sat at Jesus feet in the posture of a disciple learning from a Rabbi; Lydia, the wealthy merchant of purple cloth and house church leader; Mary Magdalene, who was the first to see the Risen Messiah and became the first evangelist (Jesus sent her to his disciples to tell them the good news); and Martha, who made a confession of faith virtually identical to Peter’s (“You are the Christ, the Son of God” – John 11:27).

The Bible has many, many stories of gifted, powerful, faith-filled women who were effective leaders in the church and amongst the people of God.

Yes, there are also “problem texts” for the egalitarian position, passages that restrict the freedom of women in certain contexts for certain reasons. We’ll get to those later in the series. For now, suffice it to say that, given the examples listed in this and last week’s posts, such restrictions are not absolute; they must be read according to the unique contexts the biblical authors addressed.

But, more to the point, these 10 examples, plus the others briefly mentioned, plus those in the Bible I didn’t get to, are “problem texts” for the complementarian position, especially versions of it that restrict women from teaching, preaching, and leading in the church.


1 Scot McKnight, Junia Is Not Alone (Patheos Press, 2011; Kindle Locations 73-75).
2 Scot McKnight, “Junia’s Friends” (blog post).
3 Rita H. Finger, Roman House Churches for Today: A Practical Guide for Small Groups (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

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Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian (part 3)

Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian

Part 3: Women as Leaders in the Bible (OT)

miriams_song1There are many stories in the Bible that feature women in significant ways. In some of these stories, women are prominent leaders in Israel or the church. In others, they are prophets speaking God’s Word, sometimes speaking directly to the people and sometimes advising and admonishing those in power. In others, they are church leaders and evangelists, serving Christ’s body effectively and faithfully with their gifts.

In my next two posts, I want to highlight ten significant women in the Bible, five this week and five next week. These are not the only women I could have chosen, but I find these ten particularly inspiring.

  1. Eve the Mother of all the Living (Genesis 2-4): Eve was created to be Adam’s equal in a way that no other creature could be. Genesis two portrays this beautifully, poetically narrating the story of her creation from the side of ‘Adam’ (the ‘ground-creature’ in Hebrew). As Matthew Henry famously wrote, “Women were created from the rib of man to be beside him, not from his head to top him, nor from his feet to be trampled by him, but from under his arm to be protected by him, near to his heart to be loved by him.” Genesis 1:26-28 declares that both men and women are created in God’s image and are called to rule over the earth together, representing God as his vice-regents or stewards. This was God’s original intent for men and women.
  2. Miriam the Prophet (Exodus, Numbers): Miriam was known as a prophet amongst God’s people during the time of the Exodus. She sang a song of celebration after God delivered the Israelites from the hands of Pharaoh; her song is recorded in the Bible and is God’s Word. With her brothers Moses and Aaron, Miriam helped lead the people of Israel (Micah 6:4).
  3. Deborah the Judge (Judges 4-5): Deborah was a prophet who became the fourth Judge of Israel, and thus the leader over the whole nation. She led the armies of Israel into victory over the Canaanites. Afterward, she publically proclaimed a song celebrating what the Lord had done for His people. Israel enjoyed 40 years of peace under her rule.
  4. Ruth the Foreigner turned Jesus’ Great, Great . . . Grandmother (book of Ruth): Ruth is a fascinating figure, celebrated in the Old Testament as one who exemplifies faithfulness, kindness, and love. Ruth is a non-Israelite, a pagan foreigner not related to the family of Abraham by birth. Yet, she is drawn into the People of God, and—even more amazing—becomes a key figure in the Messianic line. She becomes the mother of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of King David, the great ancestor of Jesus the Messiah! Ruth, an outsider, becomes a key link in the chain of God’s chosen people, a people through whom God plans to bless the entire world. Her story is significant on several fronts (I blogged about it here).
  5. Huldah the Prophet (2 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 34): During the reign of King Josiah, after the recovery of the Book of the Law (which had been forgotten and neglected), the prophet Huldah was called upon to speak the Word of the Lord . In so doing, she explained the meaning and significance of the Scriptures to the high priest, and through him to King Josiah, the elders, the priests and Levites, and “all the people from the least to the greatest.” So, Huldah played a prominent role in the spiritual renewal of Judah. This is probably my favourite story on this list!
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Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian (part 2)

Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian

Part 2: Spirit Gifting is the Starting Point

dove2In my first post, I suggested that the inclusion of women in ministry and leadership enriches the church in various ways (and hinted that excluding them from these roles impoverishes the church). I shared about a number of gifted women with whom I have served, describing how their personalities, experiences, abilities, spiritual dispositions, and character traits contributed immensely to the effectiveness and the quality (i.e., ‘culture’ or ‘atmosphere’) of our church’s leadership teams and ministries. In response to God’s call, these women served God and God’s people faithfully and fruitfully by loving God and others and by exercising their Spirit-given gifts.

In this post, I want to suggest that the starting point for a theology of women in church ministry and leadership is Spirit-giftedness. Women whose lives and actions demonstrate Spirit-bestowed gifts in areas relevant to ministry and leadership should be actively welcomed and encouraged to serve in those capacities in the church. Indeed, Spirit-giftedness is the determinative qualifying criterion for all ministry and leadership in the church regardless of one’s gender. What I’m suggesting here is that we apply this criterion consistently for both men and women.

One concern that critics of this position typically raise is that, in their view, appealing to Spirit gifting seems to imply that one’s theology is based on ‘experience’ rather than the Bible. This is a valid and important concern. I place myself solidly in the evangelical tradition, which holds to the centrality of the Bible as the final authority for Christian belief and practice. So, I regard the criticisms of ‘experience-based’ theology as valid, but they are not applicable here.1

Appealing to Spirit gifting is not primarily an appeal to human experience, for at least three reasons. (For an in-depth treatment of these arguments, see my article published in Priscilla Papers linked here).

First, the Bible itself prioritizes Spirit gifting (e.g., Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 3; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4, 2 Tim. 1:6-7), so appealing to evidence of such gifting in the lives of potential ministers or leaders is biblical. As the New Testament scholar Gordon Fee has argued, the New Testament prioritizes Spirit-giftedness over concerns about organizational structure and authority in the church (i.e., “Who’s in charge and holds ‘office’?).2 Moreover, he points out that a reliance on Spirit gifting is more consistent with the New Covenant, in which God pours out his promised Spirit on all believers—sons and daughters, young and old, male and female (according to Joel 2:28–29 and Acts 2:17–18). The inbreaking of the new age of the Kingdom of God eclipses the exclusiveness of the Old Covenant along with its restrictions based upon race, gender, and social status (Gal. 3:28). Later in this series, I will address some of the common objections to the egalitarian position raised in light of complementarian readings of texts such as 1 Timothy 2. For now, let’s just note that the Bible’s primary emphasis lies on the Spirit’s gifting and empowerment for ministry effectiveness, not church structures, ‘offices,’ or a concern for order (these are of secondary importance).

Second, when I talk about Spirit-gifting, I am not referring primarily to a human experience, but to God the Holy Spirit’s sovereign call, God’s own Act. Of course, our experience is an important factor in discerning God’s act and call. But it is not thereby the foundation of our theology. God’s prior act and revelatory call are the foundation! This is a subtle distinction, but an important one. Let me provide an analogy. Christian faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord is not founded upon human knowledge, reason, wisdom, or will power. As Paul writes, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Elsewhere, he writes, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal. 4:6). And elsewhere, Paul describes faith as a gift of God, not a human work such that anyone could boast (Eph. 2:8-9). Christian faith is founded upon God’s prior Act, Word, and Gift, which confront our whole existence; we begin to perceive, make sense of, and respond to God’s revelation with the aid of our knowledge, reason, wisdom, and will (all of which God is reorienting and renewing). In a similar way, Spirit-gifted women and men who sense God’s calling and demonstrate effectiveness in church ministry and leadership base their theology of ministry not on ‘human experience’ but on God’s prior Act, Word, and Gift. So, a theology of women in ministry is grounded not in experience, but in the sovereign calling of the Holy Spirit.

Third, a theology of ministry grounded in Spirit-gifting recognizes that Christian ministry is, properly speaking, not our own. Christian ministry is first and foremost Christ’s ministry, in which we are called to participate in and by the Holy Spirit. In contrast to the Old Testament, in which particular persons in a particular tribe (male Levites) were called to be priests, in the New Testament the word ‘priest’ is never applied to an individual Christian. When it refers to an individual in the NT, it always refers to Christ; when ‘priest’ refers to Christian believers, it always refers to all believers collectively. In the New Testament era, there is only one Priest and that’s Jesus! We become ‘priests’ only in a derivative sense, as those who participate by the Spirit in Jesus’ High Priesthood and in Jesus’ own ministry. By implication, we minister not on the basis of our own innate attributes, capacities, and endowments, or our own brilliance, ingenuity, strategic prowess, or creativity, but on the basis of our union with Christ in the Spirit.

Of course, the Spirit can and does make use of our natural capacities and learned skills, but these do not constitute the basis of the Spirit’s call. Nothing conditions grace! Generally speaking, we grasp that it is wrong to impose conditions on one’s eligibility for ministry based on innate human qualities or capacities. We rightfully cringe at the idea that one’s race, colour, inherited social status or class, nationality, intelligence, disease or health could disqualify one from Christian ministry. Is gender a unique category in this regard? Is gender the one innate quality that preconditions how God’s grace and call are allowed to operate?

I want to conclude by quoting a friend of mine, Corrie Gustafson, who is an ordained pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church. She recently blogged about why she preaches and her words bear powerful witness to God’s leading and call. She writes,

When I preach, I’m usually trembling inside. It’s a quaking of both holy fear and abiding joy. My sermons spring from the joy of what Christ has done for me and for us all. As a woman, I don’t preach just because I can, because I’m entitled, or because I think I’m great. I preach because God is great.

I preach because of God and for God.

I preach because the gospel heals and I want to spread that medicine.

I preach to worship God and so that others might worship God.

I preach to proclaim God’s matchless glory.

I preach as surrender to God.

Such God-centredness and Spirit-sensitivity should characterize all Christian ministry, regardless of who is being called to minister.


1 I reject the methodology of classical theological liberalism (in the tradition of Schleiermacher), which grounds theological reflection and formulation in some kind of human religious experience (universal ‘God-consciousness’ in Schleiermacher’s case).

2 See Gordon Fee, “The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, ed. Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 241–54.

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Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian (part 1)

Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian

Part 1: Serving with Gifted Women in the Church

Some time ago, a mother shared with me a story about how her daughter courageously shared the gospel with her friends at school. One day in class, the ten year-old girl was telling some of her fellow students about her favorite Bible story. When the teacher overheard the discussion, he reprimanded the girl for talking about the Bible at school. The girl responded defiantly by telling the students that she would meet anyone who was interested in hearing about it during recess. Which she did, and they showed up.

Upon hearing this story, one might anticipate this girl eventually serving God in a leadership role within her church, perhaps as a pastor, congregational teacher, or leader in the church. Sadly, however, the leaders of her church believe and teach that these roles are inappropriate for women. Such positions are restricted to men, despite the evidence of women’s giftedness for them.

This view, that certain ministries, roles, and positions are restricted to men, is a form of what is called ‘complementarianism’ or the ‘patriarchal view’ of women in the church. Its advocates do not believe that women are of lesser value or dignity than men, but that God designed women to be subordinate to men in role or function. “Equal in dignity, subordinate in [certain] function(s)” is the usual motto. In particular, women should never operate in positions of authority over men. Complementarians differ over what kinds of activities constitute such authority and therefore should be allowed versus disallowed for women in the church (e.g., some believe that gifted women should be allowed to preach or lead, others dispute this). However, all agree that women should serve under and be accountable to male leadership.

I am an egalitarian, which means that I believe in the full equality of women and men before God, in the home, and in the church. In terms of ministry in the church, I believe that women should be welcomed and encouraged to serve in all of the church’s ministries, including positions of church leadership and authority, because I believe that ones giftedness should determine a persons qualification to serve – not ones gender.

I have had the privilege of serving in ministry and leadership with many gifted women. When I was in university, the president of our Intervarsity Christian Fellowship group was a young woman. She led wisely, faithfully, and effectively.

In church leadership (at the ‘elder’ level), I have served alongside women who brought tremendous depth and richness to the leadership teams. One is a prayer warrior, a woman of wisdom who is an encourager and mentor to many, walking with them and providing discerning guidance. Another is an HR expert in the business world, holding an MBA degree and serving as a consultant to several major corporations as well as non-profit organizations. Her spiritual sensitivity, relational wisdom, and expertise in things like team building, conflict resolution, interviewing, and employer-employee relations were a huge benefit to our church. Another is a former church planter (along with her husband, though she was the ordained minister), mother of four, and now a PhD candidate in theology. She brought theological depth and a passion for spiritual theology to our leadership team. Another is a wonderful writer and gifted communications expert, an executive at a large non-profit organization, whose spiritual depth, maturity and mentoring wisdom shaped conversations. Another is a stay-at-home mom who grew up as a missionary kid, trained as a high school teacher, has a graduate theological degree, and in her daily life exemplifies humility, simplicity, hospitality, and charity. Her views helped us maintain perspective and balance in our meetings. Another is a dentist who cares deeply for others and serves them in practical ways, both at work and in the church. She is the kind of leader that pours into others, offering them support, counsel, and discerning wisdom. Another is a math instructor who taught calculus to engineering students at a well reputed university. In addition to serving in leadership, where she often helped move a conversation forward though her ability to think clearly and identify the crucial issues, she blessed the church through her gifts in teaching, organizing, and worship leading. Another is an entrepreneur who runs her own business, sits on numerous boards, has strong strategic leadership abilities, and is a capable preacher. My own wife is a gifted spiritual director, speaker, teacher and counselor, with a keen sensitivity to the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit and an ability to help others discern what God is up to in their lives. She also holds an MDiv degree and works within a well-formed theological framework.

Over and over again, I have found that the presence of women in church ministry and leadership enriches the church (or particular leadership teams within the church) in significant ways with added depth and breadth. This is not something new in the history of the church, though unfortunately the stories of women serving in such influential capacities (in the Bible and in church history) have often been forgotten, ignored, or played down. Women bring to the table particular perspectives, experiences, ways of relating (to God and other people), ways of asking questions and solving problems, and unique gift-mixes endowed by the Holy Spirit that are simply lacking in male-dominant (or male-exclusive) ministry and leadership models and practices.

Over the next several weeks I will be blogging about why I am an egalitarian. I will offer reflections on a number of biblical, hermeneutical (interpretive), philosophical, theological, practical, and ethical considerations that are relevant to this issue.

The posts will go live on Tuesday mornings. I welcome questions and feedback, but I won’t post anything that is rude or disrespectful.

My purpose in all of this is not to put down those who are not egalitarians. I respect their views and understand that the Bible is often less than fully clear on this issue (and so disagreements over interpretation are bound to occur). My main purpose is simply to explain my own position, with the hope that: (1) It can be of some encouragement to women who are sensing God’s call to serve in the church as pastors and leaders; and (2) It can offer some perspective to those who are presently thinking through this issue.

Posted in hermeneutics, The Bible, Theology, Women in Ministry | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Wisdom from Charlotte Mason on Helping our Children Integrate Science and Faith

This year, my wife began homeschooling our two boys. One of the authors that writes about educating children whom she really appreciates is Charlotte Mason. Mason advocated a holistic approach to education, which placed a strong emphasis on creating the kind of learning environment that fosters both intellectual and character formation. She strove to create an atmosphere that cultivated a love for learning as a basic disposition of one’s character and as a way of engaging all of life. One motto that summarizes her approach well is: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

The other day my wife came across a blog post in which the author, Karen Glass, reflects on Mason’s approach to evolution in light of her Christian faith and her philosophy of education. I really enjoyed reading it and found her approach to be exemplary. It is instructive for Christians not only as they engage the “evolution” issue, but also as they engage the “faith and science” discussion more broadly (regardless of where one stands on evolution).

I recommend Glass’s post to you, which you can find by clicking the link below. Thanks, Elena, for bringing it to my attention!

Click this link to read the article.

Posted in education, Science and Christian Faith | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

WOMEN in the life of the Church

WOMEN In the life of the Church: An upcoming series on women in ministry.

Watch for it on Tuesday.

Posted in evangelicalism, hermeneutics, Theology, Theology and Culture | Tagged , , , ,

My review of a recent book on the atonement

I’d like to recommend a recent book on the atonement (the meaning and significance of the death of Jesus) by Jeremy R. Treat. It’s entitled The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).

Its main argument that cross and kingdom are intrinsically linked is an important one, and the author presents his case convincingly and clearly. The book delves into both biblical and systematic theology and is well researched and highly readable.

More controversially, the book stresses the importance of the penal substitutionary view of the atonement (both for cross and kingdom), tracing this theme throughout Scripture and explicating its internal theo-logic.

Here is my official review of the book, published in the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 15 (2013-14):

Here is a brief summary statement from my review (see the link above for the full review):

Treat succeeds in convincingly demonstrating his central thesis that the kingdom and the cross belong together and are mutually informing realities. His contention that Christ the King suffered and died a substitutionary death on the cross in order to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth (one that is hidden and cruciform, yet perceived in faith to be the power and wisdom of God) is both refreshing and compelling. He presents strong evidence from Scripture and tradition to support his position.

However, Treat’s secondary argument concerning the logical relations between atonement metaphors, and especially his insistence on the primacy of penal substitution, is far less convincing. His view may turn out to be true, but his argument does not sufficiently demonstrate it.  . . .

. . . Despite these critical comments, I highly recommend The Crucified King to all who wish to engage atonement theology and kingdom theology seriously.

Posted in Theology | Tagged , , , , ,