Bound and Determined – Jeanene Reese

One of the most important issues in the church in the next 10 years is women’s roles. One of the newest books dealing with that issue is about to be released by Leafwood press next month is called Bound and Determined. Jeanene Reese, wife of ACU’s Jack Reese, lends her voice to the conversation. This book looks at gender roles from a female perspective. She looks at this complex issue through the lens of what it really means for the genders to live in partnership rather than in competition or subordination. One of the problems we have had is that we have had this conversation more as a monologue than a dialog. Only one party has been able to talk, the men. So I appreciate hearing a woman’s perspective on this.

What I also appreciate about this book is that she starts the entire conversation from scripture, Genesis 1-3. She examines the role of woman as a helper and partner to her husband and how the same terminology is applied to God’s role in helping his people. One question she addresses that I had never really considered is that when God created woman it was said that a man would leave his father and mother and be joined with his wife and yet their culture was very much patriarchal. Was a patriarchal society God’s original intention in light of Gen 2:24? Her point in all of this is that this is not language of inferiority/superiority but of mutuality. She examines the effects of sin on all relationships, including the relationships between men and women.

Next is an examination of how many women in the Old Testament served in partnership with the men and how many of the men relied on the women for much of what took place in the narrative of the OT. She writes, “Too often we hear these stories only as indications of strong women being used by God and fail to see the unusual and meaningful partnerships they formed to strengthen and encourage them in their calling.” (p.36). We don’t often think of the relationships these women must have had with their male counterparts because we get so caught up in how God used them to accomplish a particular task. Could that be because we haven’t really spent time asking the same question in our contemporary culture in the church? We boil down women in the church to what they can and cannot do but how often have we asked the question of how they might better partner with us, the guys, to please God?

The last thing in chapter 1 is a discussion of our unity in Christ. The New Testament teaches us that all believers are on equal footing with God. That obviously doesn’t necessitate every believer have precisely the same role but it does mean God is not up to playing favorites, favoring the men over the women. Jesus’ ministry included a close connection and association (couldn’t we just as easily say partnership) with several women who really did make a difference in supporting his life and ministry. The same with Paul’s ministry (Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, Lois, Eunice, and many more, p.40.). We don’t often consider gender differences as being a source of division in the church because, again, one party is typically not vocal but the reality is it might be on the most explosive non-verbalized silent issues in the church. One reason for that is women find themselves in leadership roles in the community and workplace and don’t find the same situation in the congregation.

Just as differences grew up among the earliest believers over cultural and social boundaries, so too we continue in similar conflicts today. Just as gender issues threatened the unity of the early church and the individuals in it, so too are we confused and challenged as we share life together. But these failures, conflicts, and threats are not the last word on godly partnership. The last word belongs to God. It belongs to God who lives in partnership within the Trinity in perfect love, harmony, honor, and unity. It belongs to God who calls each of us, and all of us, to live in meaningful relationship with God’s self. It belongs to God who places us in numerous situations that we share as men and women. To fulfill what God intends for us, we must learn to be together in new and meaningful ways.

I appreciate Mrs. Reese’s willingness to open up the text from a perspective that you don’t often hear. I think that is valuable and important as God created us male and female for a reason. I know I value the feedback, opinions, and interpretations of my wife when we have done Bible studies together. I have learned much from her and treasure her insights. I am looking forward to gleaning more from this book and will pass on whatever I find helpful. I believe you can order this book now and it will be available in September from Leafwood.

Women’s Roles in the Church – Scot McKnight, Dan Kimball & N.T. Wright Weigh In

Looks like Scot McKnight is weighing in on this subject. I intend to talk about it more here in the coming week after we have our second discussion this Sunday in our 20s & 30s class. Here is the link to Jesus Creed. Here is also a link mentioned in the discussion there to something N.T. Wright wrote on the matter from the NT Wright Page.

Dan Kimball posted something today about Sarah Palin and a complementarian view. He is the one who initially sparked the discussion in our 20s and 30s group and the posts here on the blog over the last week or so. I am going to do at least two more posts here on this issue. You can read more of Scot’s views in the comments of Dan Kimball’s post. Enough explaining. Following the links and see what you think.

Groundrules for Discussing Women’s Roles in Church

“At the outset not much can be said with certainty on the matter, but it can be said with confidence that the topic of women in the church is complex, volatile, and unavoidable.” – Carroll Osborne

Any time you have a discussion on these issues they have to be done with a couple of ground rules:
1 – They must be done with grace.
2 – We start with an understanding that we will not all arrive at the same conclusions on all the passages and issues.
3 – Know your elders. If your elders really are shepherds then you will be able to trust that they are dealing with the congregation to the best of their ability.
4 – Openness to letting what we find in scripture change our thinking rather than trying to make the Bible fit our traditions and preconceived ideas.

Diagram for Conversing on Women’s Roles and Other Issues that Have Cultural Components

I wanted to mention a few things we discussed in Sunday’s class on women’s roles and want to start by offering the model that I drew up to help me think through the issue.

The ultimate goal is to determine what God’s will is in a given context. The best way to determine his will is found through how he has divinely revealed himself as recorded in the Bible. The Bible communicates eternal principles, ethics and morals given a particular context (the nature of the occassional letters of the NT) and recorded by men who have their own backgrounds, understandings, personalities, and vocabularies. So while the culture changes the eternal principles, morals and ethics do not. The goal is to look at scripture and try to discern how these lenses affect what was recorded in scripture and how it still applies to us today.

Let’s use this model in a concrete pair of examples:

“Then” Example: Head Coverings (1 Cor 11:2ff)
Paul works through appropriate and inappropriate procedure for the covering of heads in worship. Again, the letter to the Corinthians was an ocassional document. In other words it was written to a particular group of people (audience) to address specific needs and problems. We are not 1st century Greeks, Romans, and Jews – all of whom covered or uncovered their heads at particular times of worship. Because they had a culture where the covering of heads was significant, these rules made sense to the Corinthians in their context. They don’t make as much sense to us because we don’t typically live in or among culture that use head coverings for propriety in worship. But continue through the model – just because a specific cultural issue was being addressed it does not mean we have nothing to learn from it. There are eternal principles, morals, and ethics that we can learn from why Paul would give them these rules. We can learn that God wants propriety in worship, we can learn that he wants us to not dishonor ourselves in worship. We might learn that God does not want us to look like the pagan world when we pray or worship Him. So the issue is cultural but the concepts extend through scripture to us today.

“Now” Example:
Let’s say Paul was alive today and he was in the congregation you worship with this Sunday. Someone walks in with a big white pointy hood on their head with eye holes cut into it and it gets the whole congregation in an uproar. This item of clothing would not have been ruled against in Paul’s day because it didn’t have the cultural connotations associated with it that it does now. They might have wondered why you wrapped your toga around your head and looked at you funny. Today it would cause major disruption. That is a “Now” example of the “Then” eternal principles, morals, and ethics we talked about with head coverings. This is an example of something specific to our culture, foreign to the biblical culture and  yet able to be addressed because the eternal principles, morals, and ethics are the same today as they were then – don’t disrupt the services, worship with propriety, etc (not to mention don’t be a racist!).

I hope you can see how the first example works through the chart from God’s will/ultimate goal (propriety in worship) being housed in a specific cultural example/context (head coverings) yet has eternal principles that still apply today. Then the second example works from the bottom up – from the Now example in a particular cultural context looking to scripture and finding the same eternal principles at work today. We work our way back to the will of God by trying to understand which lenses are cultural, which are eternal principles, and which are so much of both that they cannot be separated.

More on how this applies to women’s roles in the church coming up. Any feedback?

Women’s Roles

Please pray for me as we discuss women’s roles in our class tomorrow morning! There is just no way to teach that in a way that makes everyone happy and hard to teach in a way that is true to the text. So, so complicated. Pray that I can explain things appropriately and give the text(s) a fair reading. Thanks!