Women in the Church Blog Series

Women in the Church:
Why I’m an Egalitarian


Last year, over the course of a few months, I wrote a series on women in the church that outlines my approach to being an egalitarian. I often get requests for links to the series, so I’ve just posted a summary page (click here).

The page lists all of the posts, in logical order, with links to make accessing them easy.

I hope that they are helpful to all (even if not all agree) and I especially hope that they are a source of encouragement to women seeking to serve God in positions of ministry and leadership in the church.

Painting: Ruth and Naomi by He Qi, 2001




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The Cross and God’s Love

cross suffering love2


The cross of Christ did not change
God’s heart toward us;
it revealed God’s heart toward us.

Agree or disagree?


Some verses to consider:

  • John 3:16-17: “ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
  • Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
  • 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
  • Ephesians 2:8-10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Any counter-texts or points to consider?

This does not mean that the cross is just a demonstration (as in some versions of the moral exemplar theory), or that it doesn’t do or accomplish something or effect a change. It does. It separates the person that God loves from the Sin nature that is a contradiction to that person’s true (God-intended) being, which hence rightfully draws the wrath of God.

I think Luther had it right:““For love’’s anger (wrath) seeks and wills to sunder the evil that it hates from the good that it loves, in order that the good and its love may be preserved.”” (Quoted in Dennis Ngien, The Suffering of God According to Martin Luther’’s Theologia Crucis (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1995), 107.)


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John Coe on the Temptation of Academia



“As a graduate student at a major secular university, I experienced personally (and witnessed in my colleagues and professors)  the temptation of academia: to be fashionable in one’s observations and conclusions, to be flashy, to be the first to make the observation, to be accepted by the elite, to stand out, to force the data or arguments, to be less than forthcoming in admitting the weaknesses of one’s views, to quote the fashionable or accepted authority on a point in which the evidence is thin, to not be willing to admit gaps in the reasoning, but to ‘courageously push ahead.’  The discipline of honesty will assist us in letting reality speak, and not merely our hypotheses that may be motivated by unhealthy passions rather than reasons, evidence or healthy feelings. This is crucial for the enterprise of science and, especially, psychology.”

– John Coe, Psychology in the Spirit

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What comes first – worship, scripture, or theology?

liturgy border-2What comes first, worship, scripture, or theology? Does it depend where one stands in history?

Hauerwas writes: “In effect, the worship of the church created Scripture, though once formed Scripture governs the church’s worship” (“God’s New Language”).

Theology, then, is not a stage in this order, but an ongoing, dialogical, communal (church) practice of indwelling and enacting this relation. It is a faithful (biblical, historical, ecumenical), doxological, and contextual ‘improvisation’ on the great theo-drama that Scripture narrates (Vanhoozer).

(I’m currently reading through The Hauerwas Reader and will likely post random thoughts that occur to me here to stimulate thought . . . and perhaps revisit later).

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Scientific Pursuit as a Form of Worship

EW cover

Why is ongoing dialogue between faith and science so important?

Read my brief article in Eyewitness to find out (pages 14-15) and then join the conversation!

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Available Next Week!

psf book_front cover official

“This book calls exactly for what evangelicalism needs in order to reinvent itself: a return to the incarnation as the foundation for a robust ecclesiology based on a Christ-centered anthropology. It is my belief that Christianity will regain its experiential and intellectual relevance for our time once Christians recover and proclaim its ancient message that the gospel is all about fulfilling our common longing for true life by becoming fully human in communion with God. Franklin’s book is an important contribution to this task.”

~ Jens Zimmermann, Canada Research Chair in Interpretation, Religion and Culture, Trinity Western University

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Debate: God, Science, and the Universe

mqdefaultThis past Saturday a debate took place at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, on the topic of God, Science, and the Universe. Participants included Lawrence Krauss, Stephen Meyer, and Denis Lamoureux. You can view the whole thing on You Tube here.

What follows are some observations and impressions I had about the debate.

* The strongest presentation, in my view, was Lamoureux’s. To be fair, Meyer had a migraine that obviously caused him some trouble. Even so, Lamoureux’s presentation was more comprehensive than the other two, addressing evolutionary biology, biblical hermeneutics, and philosophical worldview questions. His point about the move we all make, beyond science, from data to metaphysics (and from metaphysics to data) was very good.

* The worst presentation was Krauss. I’d say “in my opinion,” but in my opinion this is an observable fact:)  If this event was intended to be a comedic roast, then Krauss won hands down. Maybe he didn’t get the memo that this was supposed to be a serious debate? His basic “argument” seemed to be: (a) my fellow debaters, and possibly all Christians, are idiots with nothing valuable to say; (b) I’m a good physicist; (c) here are three (basically not argued and largely pedantic anyway) guiding principles for thinking ‘scientifically’; (d) therefore God is redundant.

* Though I felt that Lamoureux’s presentation was stronger, I want to point out that Meyer’s argument (his larger argument, not details along the way) was not refuted by either of his two opponents. Krauss responded basically by making fun of him and Lamoureux’s god-of-the-gaps charge doesn’t really get at the larger problem to which Meyer points, namely the problem of the origin of biological information. Even with his obviously debilitating migraine, Meyer was able to make some basic points in defence that continued to stand without convincing refutation by the other two. (I say this as someone not fully convinced by Meyer’s argument, by the way). Lamoureux’s charge has some merit if Meyer is arguing that God needs to intervene physically with the world to enact every evolutionary change. But that’s not what Meyer argued, at least not at this debate. So, Meyer’s opponents seemed to be scrambling a bit to refute him, offering assertions but not clear arguments (Lamoureux’s examples in the response period were good, but need to be developed a little more, I think, to show their implications for Meyer’s theory and his probability analysis).

* I think Lamoureux let Krauss get away with too much. He seemed to go after Meyer more than Krauss, which was a bit strange since Kraus’s arguments were more problematic than Meyer’s. Though perhaps he didn’t go after Krauss because the latter didn’t really put forth much in terms of convincing arguments? (Why trade blows with empty assertions?)

* It would have been interesting to add another figure to the mix, either a physicist like Ard Louis or Arnold Sikkema or John Polkinghorne or a mathematician like John Lennox. And perhaps we could add an information theorist (such as Randy Isaac of the American Scientific Affiliation) to dialogue more seriously with Meyer over origin of information questions.

That’s it for now . . . I may offer more observations later.


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Coming April 2016


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Participation in God’s Mission conference


On March 19, I will be giving a paper at a theology conference at Northeastern Seminary (the event is co-sponsored by Northeastern and the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association). The keynote speaker is Dr. Michael Gorman and the theme is participation in God’s mission. I’m super excited to go, especially since I’ll be going with my friend Rob Dean who is also presenting.

Here’s my tentative title and abstract:

The God Who Sends is the God Who Loves:
Mission as Participating in the Ecstatic Love of the Triune God

In recent years many have attempted to recover an emphasis on missiology by articulating its significance for our understanding of theology and ecclesiology, God and church. For example, the missional church literature describes God as a missional or sending God. Just as the Father sent the Son and the Spirit into the world to accomplish the missio Dei (mission of God), so now God sends the church into the world as “God’s instrument for God’s mission” (Guder, Missional Church).

While this renewed emphasis on mission is welcome and helpful, it sometimes has the tendency to promote a pragmatic and functional approach to church (especially in some of the popular missional literature). To avoid this mistake, it is important to envision missional ecclesiology flowing out of a participatory and relational trinitarian theology, in which God’s redemptive mission is grounded more fundamentally in God’s nature as love. God’s mission to redeem the world flows from God’s prior love for human beings and creation. God’s love for human beings and creation is rooted, in turn, in the other-centered, ecstatic, perichoretic love that constitutes God’s triune being (God’s inner life and intrinsic character) and reflects the fullness and over-flowing quality of the divine life (the external missions of the Son and Spirit flow from their inner, eternal processions). Along these lines, this paper will outline and commend, in exploratory fashion, a participatory and relational trinitarian missional ecclesiology, drawing on the work of several theologians (notably Augustine, J. B. Torrance, Bonhoeffer, Pannenberg, Newbigin, and Grenz).

I’ll be blogging my reflections on the conference – watch for that the week of March 21-25.

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Women in the Church: Part 11

Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian

Part 11: Difficult Texts: Ephesians 5:21-33

gender-clipart-xcgbBo9cATodays post is the final of three addressing key New Testament texts often cited to restrict or prohibit women from certain ministries in the church, such as teaching, preaching, and leadership.  

Ephesians 5:21-33 is often cited as a proof text to endorse male leadership in the home. In this text, wives are instructed to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Pretty clear, right?

Well, perhaps not. As with the other passages we’ve looked at in my last two posts, we need to consider the broader context to discern what’s going on.

The most important thing to notice is that the relationship between husbands and wives is actually not the main theme that Paul is addressing. His broader theological concern is life in the Spirit, thus the general principle he asserts is “Be filled with the Spirit . . .” (5:18b). He then expounds a number of applications of this principle, one of which concerns the way Christian husbands and wives are to relate to each other.

Of course, we fail to see that life in the Spirit is Paul’s main focus if we only read verses 21-33 (or worse if we begin at 22). Sometimes preachers are guilty of isolating the text in this fashion. For example, some appeal to this text as a kind of handbook for Christian marriages, perhaps as part of a sermon series on godly relationships in the home. Unfortunately, this misses the point of Paul’s discussion and ends up misapplying the text.

Sometimes bad translations have contributed to the problem. For example, the original NIV (1984), which is the text that many evangelical pastors grew up reading (myself included), misconstrued the structure and grammar of Eph. 5:18-21. The original NIV employed 5 sentences to express 6 separate commands, as depicted in the following diagram:

original NIV

However, the Greek text, on which the NIV was based, has only one (long) sentence that expresses just two commands (imperatives): (1) “Do not get drunk”; and (2) “Be filled with the Spirit”. The second of these commands is followed by 5 participles (-ing words) that serve as applications of the command. These are: (a) speaking to one another; (b) singing; (c) making music; (d) giving thanks; and (e) submitting to one another. The following diagram depicts the grammatical structure of the Greek text (compare it closely with the previous diagram!):

greek text flow

This structure makes it clear that Paul’s words about submission in marriage are given as an application of his primary theme, which is life in the Spirit.

So far so good. But, why does Paul tell wives to submit to their husbands? Why is this an apt expression of their life in the Spirit?

It’s important to notice first that Paul does not simply tell wives to submit. In fact, he begins the subsection 5:21-33 with the participial phrase submitting to one another, which he directs to all . . . wives to husbands in verses 22-24 . . . and then husbands to wives in verses 25-33. The author does not repeat the verb ‘submit’ when applying v.21 to either wives or husbands; he simply says “wives, to your husbands” and then addresses husbands by telling them to love their wives. So Paul is encouraging mutual submission in the home, wives to husbands and husbands to wives. Why then does he switch from “submit” in verse 21-24 to “love” in verses 25-33? We’ll come back to that shortly. First, let’s consider his instructions to wives.

Though Paul is talking about mutual submission, in verses 22-24 he emphasizes the need for wives to submit to their husbands. We’re not sure why, exactly, because Paul doesn’t tell us. But given the contextual nature of Paul’s letters it is likely that he was writing to address specific issues the the church was facing. We know that the church in Ephesus was having problems with false teachers, and many of these were women who were abusing their new found freedom in Christ (see my post on 1 Timothy 2). Paul is concerned that such women were threatening the social order, which would create unnecessary impediments to the hearing of the gospel among the unevangelized. He shows this kind of concern elsewhere, for example in 1 Peter 3 (see this post) and in Titus 2:5 where he writes that women are “to be kind and subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” Paul is not an egalitarian in the modern sense. He takes for granted the traditional household codes of the ancient Greco-Roman world and does not seek to overturn them, at least not directly. Instead, his approach is to accept the traditional household arrangements of the ancient world on the surface while subverting them from within. He does this with his rather shocking instructions to husbands.

Paul tells husbands to love their wives. He moves from submission language in verses 22-24 to the language of love in verses 25-33. In so doing he is not softening his instructions to the men, but intensifying them. According to the broader context of the passage, there was something wrong with the men in Ephesus. They needed to be instructed to love their wives (vv. 25-33), to discipline their children with gentleness and godly instruction (6:4), and to treat their slaves with dignity (6:9). Paul seeks to break this pattern by appealing to Jesus as the model of selfless love. Just as Christ loved the church and gave up his own life to save her, so husbands are called to love and serve their wives. These are shocking instructions in the context of the ancient Greco-Roman world. Ancient sources do not speak frequently of husbands loving their wives. Husbands had relatively few obligations in the home beyond providing food and shelter. And women were generally regarded as inferior. They were expected to take the religion of their husbands. They were often viewed as less intelligent and less moral, a source of sin and continual temptation for men. Paul is speaking into this context and seeking to subvert it.

So does Paul teach male headship in this passage? Yes! . . . well, sort of! He does say that husbands are the ‘head’ of their wives just as Christ is the head of the church. On the other hand, he goes out of his way to subvert common notions of male leadership. Paul is both assuming and subverting male headship at the same time. In essence, he’s saying: Yes, husbands, you are the head! . . . Now heres what it looks like to be the head when you acknowledge Christ as Lord and seek to live life in the Spirit. The kind of headship that Paul endorses is strange indeed. As ‘head’, husbands are to love, serve, and even submit to (v.21) their wives. Interestingly, it’s difficult in this passage to distinguish the difference between being a ‘head’ and being a servant!

It’s important to point out what Paul does not say about the husband’s headship. He does not say that the husband is the sole or even primary decision maker. He does not say that the husband is in charge of the family’s finances. He does not say that the wife’s place is to be in the home while the husband’s is to be the sole breadwinner. He is not using ‘head’ in the sense that we often use it in English – as the head of a corporation, boss, chief officer, etc. He subverts and transforms headship language by redefining it in reference to Jesus. Jesus told his disciples that the greatest ones in his kingdom are those who live to serve others. He said that he himself did not come to be served, but to serve and  give his life as a ransom for many. As a display of his glory (John 13), Jesus stooped to wash the feet of his own disciples (such cruciform glory!). And in an ultimate act of love and sacrifice, Jesus became a slave for us, dying a criminals death on the cross to save us (Phil. 2:5-11).

Mutual submission is one of the practices that ought to define Christians in their common life together in the Spirit. Husbands and wives are called to live this out in the home, with Jesus himself as their example. Wives are to submit to their husbands as an expression of their submission to Christ. Submission to husbands is neither absolute nor even virtuous in itself: Jesus the Lord is the basis, motivation, and qualification of that submission (as one commentator points out). Husbands are to submit to their wives by loving them sacrificially and serving them, just as Christ loved and served the church, giving up his own life for her sake.

Yes, Paul endorsed headship. But he also turned headship on its head! Egalitarians seek to take his lead and extend his principles within our own contemporary context, one no longer bound by the household codes of the ancient Greco-Roman world.

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