I have just returned from watching Revenge of the Sith. It was, I believe, a significant improvement on the other two prequels. However, the acting was still wooden (the droids have an excuse, but not the rest of the cast) and the plot was convoluted. The strength of the original trilogy lay in the cast (particularly Harrison Ford, who made the films for me) and in the engaging plotline. Even after three prequels I still could not get myself to care about Anakin (until he donned the Vader suit, that is; in that suit even the dullest actor becomes the epitome of cool), Padme or even Obi Wan. The warm humour exuded by the original trilogy is parodied by the cheap laughs in the prequels (although Revenge is a real improvement on the earlier prequels in this regard). There is nothing to match the witty dialogue of the original trilogy in the prequels. Rather, with Yoda's poor attempts at sentence construction continually bombarded we are.
The sheer overdose of special effects and choreographed action sequences quickly amount to sensory overload, after which time one doesn't really care much. The sustained tension and subsequent exhilaration achieved in many parts of the original trilogy was conspicuous by its absence. The flimsy plot soon collapsed, overwhelmed by the collective weight of the numerous setpieces and action scenes, any one of which was rendered fairly anonymous by virtue of the gratuitous quantity of them. Why is it that many film-makers seem incapable of resisting the allure of the newer additions that computer technology has granted to the palette of their art?
On occasions the plot of Revenge felt like one might expect a series of cinematic footnotes to look like. Points of the original trilogy were supported and expounded, and elements of the earlier prequels were developed, but any sense of strong inner coherence and direction to the plot of Revenge itself was lacking. The plot lacked a clear focus, a problem (as I have already observed) compounded by a myriad instances of distracting special effects.
There are a few lessons that I hope that George Lucas learns before he finishes his work on the next Indiana Jones movie. The chief among them are as follows: the backbone of a film is its plot; strong characters give life to its flesh. Without a good plot a film becomes an amorphous blob; without strong characters it becomes a corpse. Special effects should be subtle and understated, like good jewellery. Overdose on them and them become the cinematic equivalent of 'bling'. Special effects wizardry can be impressive, but good film-making is primarily achieved by more quotidian means.
There are some more short videos available in the following places:—
A brief collection of clips of Wright answering some questions, posted a couple of days ago: Part 1, Part 2 (should be up later today)
Hauerwas discussing pacifism, shortly after 9/11 (see Nov. 4, 2001)
There is also a video of a 2004 Stanley Hauerwas lecture on this page. However, I have yet to have any success in trying to play it. If anyone else can get it to work, please tell me.
The following is the continuation and conclusion of my earlier comments on the role of women. As I have already stated, these posts are not intended to give the final word on the subject. The thoughts contained below are in a rather rough and disorganized form. They need considerably polishing. Their principal purpose is to encourage discussion and provide a place where I can gather some of my thoughts on the subject. Some of the following material has been culled from things that I wrote on the Wrightsaid list a while back.
Common sense is frequently an unwelcome intruder into debates about the sexes. Many people do not want to face up to the fact that men and women are different and, for this reason, are better suited for differing tasks. Only something as daft as political correctness could blind us to some of the obvious issues here.
We should recognize that there are certain areas where one sex is far more likely to achieve excellence than the other. Although some would like to believe that women will one day run the 100m faster than men (it has been argued), I struggle to believe it. I don’t believe that the fact that the majority of the most gifted scientists and mathematicians are male is necessarily just a product of discrimination. Gender isn’t merely imposed by cultures onto essentially androgynous beings; there are real differences between men and women. Even when women do lead in the public arena they lead in a manner that differs from the manner in which men lead.
None of this is to argue that women are somehow less than men. I do not believe that the male is the better of the female. Women and men are, in many senses, incommensurable. The problem is that modern society often sees equality in terms of ability to compete in the marketplace and achieve equal outcomes. Wherever women fail to achieve the same outcome as men, prejudice must be present. However, the sexes were never designed to successfully compete with each other; they were created to successfully complement each other. A man is not more valuable in the eyes of God than a woman is; the two sexes are of ‘equal’ value. However, the woman is the ‘weaker vessel’ — like a priceless Ming vase — and, whether our political correctness can stomach it or not, the sexes should not be treated as if they were the same.
We must also recognize that there are psychological, mental and physical differences between men and women to factor in here too. The following are all general tendencies, not hard and fast rules. Women are, in general, physically weaker than men. Physical presence does play a role in leadership and the male is built for physical confrontation in a way that the woman is not. Men don’t bruise as easily, have thicker skin, thicker skulls (as most women well know!), greater upper body strength and build muscle easier. The male body is designed for the use of force in a way that the woman’s body is not. These physical factors have a role in the formation of the male’s identity. The male who grows up playing contact sports will have leadership qualities shaped by the experience. The fact that women are not as physically equipped for contact sports has a formative effect on their style of leadership. Competition and aggression are more pronounced in the male for this and other reasons.
Men and women are different mentally. Our brains are wired differently. The brain of a woman has more neural connections between the two hemispheres. Men and women approach the act of problem-solving differently. Men are more likely to establish a hierarchy. Relationships established in the process of problem-solving are generally more important for females than they are for males.
Women tend to think more intuitively than men do. The elements within a problem are seen as far more interconnected than they are for a man. For this reason, women are more prone to be overwhelmed by the complexity of a problem and find it more difficult to separate their personal experience from the problem that they are tackling. Men are more likely to focus on one problem at a time. For this reason, they are less likely to appreciate the subtleties that might be necessary for a solution. Men tend to better able to separate their own feelings from the problems that they are addressing. Viewing elements of a problem as independent and following such a linear approach can be dangerous, but on other occasions, and in particular settings, it is very effective.
Women are better than men at accessing emotional memories. They are generally more sensitive. If a woman’s testosterone levels are increased they become more insensitive and indifferent to others. Men and women tend to approach relationships differently. Men tend to focus more on shared activities of different types as that which forms solid relationships; women tend to focus more on dialogue and sharing of experience.
There are certain mental, physical and psychological qualities of the male that mean that he will tend to approach the task of leadership in the public realm differently. These qualities do not make the man ‘better’ than the woman, just different. These qualities do, however, mean that the man will tend to be better equipped for leadership in the public realm than the woman will. There are genuine exceptions to all of the above generalizations. However, to focus on exceptions rather than generalizations is to paint a fundamentally misleading picture.
There is no single part of our lives as men and women that can be regarded as androgynous. The examples given above are merely a few examples from our bodily make-up. Such examples would need to be supplemented by many other forms of examples.
There is no warrant for the idea that women’s sphere of activity is limited to the home. However, the Bible does seem to treat the home as the more common environment for the woman (e.g. Judges 5:24). Nevertheless, even the woman whose sphere of activity is focused on the home can be quite economically active (as Proverbs 31 should teach us).
In addition to this, the Bible does not limit the role of the women to roles within the family. For many Christians today, the single (or childless) woman is somehow regarded as if she were somehow falling short of God’s design for the lives of women. Against such a position we must stress that the Bible has a very prominent place for single men and women. In no sense can they be regarded as second-class citizens (I might well post on the subject of singleness sometime in the next few weeks).
In the light of redemptive history it is important that we appreciate that the Church is the new Family, which relativizes all other families. We become members of this Family through Baptism. The role of the biological family, important though it is, is always secondary and subservient to the family of the Church. To regard single women, as many seem to do, as somehow falling short of their God-given vocation is, I believe, a result of a mis-telling of the story of Scripture.
Biblical masculinity does not compete with biblical femininity. In Scripture strong men enable their wives to be strong and vice versa. Egalitarianism blinds us to the complementary character of the roles of men and women and, as a result, places them in competitive roles. Egalitarianism has not tended to lead to the valuing of androgynous roles over gendered roles, so much as the valuing of masculine roles over feminine roles.
Far too often, in feminism’s fight for equality, the ideal imposed upon women has been a masculine ideal. Women must strive to be equal to men. Ironically, in this respect, egalitarian feminism has often been far more vocal and forceful in support of a masculine norm than patriarchy ever was. Egalitarian feminism has also undermined the very basis on which women can be valued precisely as women.
The narratives that feminism presents to women to inhabit are frequently far more oppressive than any of those dreamt up by patriarchal systems. Women are to aspire to be ruthless career women who successfully compete in a ‘male’ world. Those who fail to live up to this ideal — housewives, for instance — are frequently despised as complicit in patriarchal systems. Far from being liberating, egalitarian feminism devalues women and brings them into bondage.
As feminism has sought to establish an autonomous identity for women, free from the shackles of traditional positions relative to men, it has paved the way for new forms of tyranny. Detaching persons from such relational fabrics and placing them in competition with each other, feminist egalitarianism has ended up objectifying women and leading to further enslavement. Insofar as the quest for women’s liberation is continuous with the quest of sinful man to be self-defining, no good can come of it. Human beings are only truly valued in relationship. As Leithart comments, such an approach tends towards women being reduced to sex objects.
Some feminists, who resist the errors of egalitarian feminism, claim that the Christian faith presents women with no ‘horizon’ towards which to aspire, in the process of developing feminine subjectivity. While men have God as one who gives ultimate value to the masculine identity, women have no such idea to aspire to.
They are wrong. The Church is the Mother of all believers and the Bride of Christ. It is in the Church that women can find ultimate value in femininity and demonstrate that femininity is not a mere absence or lack of masculinity. The Church is our Mother in heaven. In the Church as Mother we can find value for women as women. In the Church we see that femininity is something positive and glorious. Evangelicals are to blame for not emphasizing the Motherhood of the Church as much as we should do.
Whilst some have criticized the Church for its use of such ideal figures of women as Mary to marginalize women, this need not necessarily be the case. Part and parcel of a biblical liberation of women must be a recovery of feminine imagery and an appreciation of the crucial typological roles played by such characters as Eve, Sarah, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and other scriptural characters.
The call for wives to submit to their husbands (and women to men in a more general manner) is contextualized by the requirement for each one of us to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21) and esteem others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
The relationship between husbands and wives is reciprocal. Both parties are called to live up to the relationship. Men are to live as symbols of Christ. Women are to live as symbols of the Church. It is not up to the individual party to define their own relationships. The relationships are already defined by Christ and the Church. Christ’s relationship with the Church gives us a standard by which we can be called to give account. The husband has no right to choose his own relationship to his wife in opposition to the standard provided by Christ.
In the biblical commands to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5, the woman is addressed first, and then the man. In most Stoic accounts of ethics, the woman wasn’t even addressed at all. She was not treated as a moral agent. As John Howard Yoder points out, the approach to ethics taken by the NT ‘gives [the slave and the wife] responsibility for viewing their status in society not as a simply meaningless decree of fate but as their own meaningful witness and ministry, an issue about which they can make a moral choice.’
Yoder argues that the woman is called, not to the mere passivity of submission, but to subordination. In subordination one recognizes the presence of an order. The woman is to recognize the order established by Christ in His relationship to the Church, and willingly and meaningfully subject herself to this order, over against all other orders. In this sense the man is also called to subordination. By this subordination of the man and the woman to the order established by Christ and the Church, marriage serves as a proclamation of the gospel. To refuse to be subordinate is to preach a false gospel by one’s life. This is an extremely important point.
The problems surrounding the question of women in leadership roles might stem in part from the privatization of the Church. If the Church operates merely in the ‘feminine’ private realm and not in the ‘masculine’ public realm, we should not be surprised to see a push for woman leadership. If the Church is a just a club composed of individuals who have a personal ‘conversion experience’ in common, the opposition to woman leadership does not make so much sense. Women can inspire people in their personal spiritual life and give them spiritual guidance (read ‘advice’) for their private relationship with God just as well as men. They can emote at people just as well as men. For all too many people, this is all that a pastor is really expected to do.
As the Church has withdrawn from the public realm — creating a secular space in its wake — the biblical prohibition on woman leadership has become increasingly problematic. Most people today approach worship as a private leisure activity. As public worship is increasingly reduced to the exercise of purely privatized (and feminized) spirituality, the gender distinctions that are more prominent in the public realm slowly recede into the background. Whilst there are certainly numerous exceptions to these rules, we should recognize that, as the Christian faith is sentimentalized and removed from the public realm, feminine forms of leadership will be emphasized over masculine forms. Even if we bar women from leadership of churches, we will have effeminate men. I believe that only by resituating the Church in the public realm will the prohibition on women teaching and exercising authority begin to make more sense. When we flesh out the fact that the Church is more than a collection of individuals but is fundamentally a body with a relational and hierarchical structure, the problems with women’s teaching will become more apparent.
I have just installed a search option on my blog. It will probably not be operational for a little while yet (the material on my blog still needs to be properly indexed), but I hope that it will be of use in the future.
Second, the relation of my own reading of Paul to the NP. Perhaps the most important point is this: had the dominant view of Paul prior to Sanders been Reformed rather than Lutheran, the NP might never have been necessary. I began my graduate work on Paul with just such a Reformed standpoint, and in many respects found Sanders an ally rather than an adversary. Since this will be counter-intuitive to some, an explanation is needed.
From (at least) Calvin onwards, reaching something of a climax in the Romans commentary of Charles Cranfield, exegetes in the Reformed tradition found in Paul a view of the Jewish law which was far more positive than Lutheran exegesis had assumed. I am not sure that this tradition ever did full justice to second Temple Judaism, but at least it did not start from the assumption that the law itself was basically a bad thing ripe for abolition. (Notice how this works out in exegesis of the notorious crux at Rom. 10:4: is Christ the abolition, end, completion, goal, or fulfilment of the law? Or what?) After all, in Reformed theology the Torah was given in the first place within a historical scheme, not to enable the Israelites to keep it and so earn their membership in God’s people, but to enable them, as a people already redeemed through the Exodus, to demonstrate and work out the implications of their membership and vocation. The (at least partial) convergence of Sanders’s reading of Judaism with a Reformed view of the law makes it all the more ironic that the anti-NP movement is today centred not least in Reformed circles such as the Presbyterian Church of America and Westminster Theological Seminary…
[From N.T. Wright’s essay, ‘Redemption from the New Perspective?’ in The Redemption: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Christ as Redeemer]
Having had reason recently to collect some thoughts that I have put together in the past on the role of women, I thought that I might as well post them here on my blog. They are far from comprehensive, some of them are tentative and there is little here that has not been said better elsewhere. This post is designed to serve as a discussion starter, an interim report on my thought on the subject and an introduction to some of the issues for those who have not yet studied the role of women in much depth. I have found James Jordan and Rich Lusk’s treatments of this subject especially helpful.
It is important that we appreciate the manner in which the doctrine of God underlies many of the debates about the role of women. At root many of these debates boil down to the question of whether God must be spoken of as ‘He’. I believe that the biblical teaching on this subject is completely decisive: to speak of God as ‘She’ is to seriously distort the biblical picture of God.
If God is a ‘He’, then authority is fundamentally male. This single fact must orientate our whole discussion of the role of women and the exercising of authority in the Church and the world. In the light of this fact we should appreciate that differing views on the role of women reveal, or at least imply, differing views about God.
Having this truth firmly in place at the heart of the picture, we can begin to insert some of the other pieces of the puzzle around it. I will follow a similar approach to the one adopted by James Jordan, who explores the role of women in the light of the threefold human calling as prophet, priest and king.
At the very outset, Jordan challenges the common tendency to view the roles of prophet, priest and king as more fundamental than sexual differentiation. He argues that women are not prophets, priests and kings, but rather, prophetesses, priestesses and queens.
The prophet is not just someone to be sent on errands; the prophet is one who stands in the council of God. God takes counsel with His prophets before He is about to do something. Prophets are not mere human conduits by which God relays the revelation of His will to His people. Prophets often seek to change the will of God, interceding on behalf of others.
A prophet speaks as a symbol and a representative of God. However, a prophetess only speaks as a representative of God. A prophetess, for example, could not have fulfilled the role of someone like Hosea (a number of the prophets had messages that necessitated their playing the role of fathers and husbands).
The king is God’s vicegerent. He exercises judgment over the people. Man’s earliest exercising of kingship can be seen in Adam’s naming of the animals. Through such activities man would grow into positions of greater authority and control over the creation. Man’s kingly task was always the task of service. To be king in the Garden is to ‘serve’ the Garden. To be the king over Israel is to be the servant of Israel.
The king exercises authority as a symbol and a representative of God. The queen exercises authority only as a representative of God (although there is reason to argue that, in some sense, she exercises authority over the general creation as a symbol of God).
The priest is a minister in the Palace of the Great King. His role is not quite the same as that of a vicegerent: the role of the king. Rather, he is an administrator of the Royal Household. His role was to offer prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the people and to teach, judge and guard the people.
Unlike the king, the priest is more of a servant administrator than a master in the House in which he serves. However, the House in which he serves is the house of a far more glorious ruler than the king (the House in which the priest serves is, by extension, the whole congregation of Israel, not merely the Temple or Tabernacle). The king and his house were subject to the Great King and His House. As a servant administrator, few things were left to the personal discretion of the priest. God’s requirements of the priest were precise and exact; little room was left for the priest to come to his own judgments. The king, whose office required the development of wisdom, differed in this respect.
The important thing to notice at this point is that, despite the occasional presence of queens and prophetesses in the OT, no allowance was ever made for priestesses.
Why weren’t priestesses allowed? Let’s try to unpack the roles of the prophets, priests and kings a bit more.
The king has a role of husbandry with relationship to society, but his role is always subordinate to God’s place as the Husband of His people. It is not a sine qua non of all forms of royal ministry that one be the symbol of God in relation to the people.
The prophet’s role is not so much that of direct husbandry. The prophet is a member of God’s council, privy to God’s will and judgments. The prophet speaks on behalf of others in the council of God and informs people of God’s will and judgments. In this position the prophet exerts considerable influence. The prophet’s role is, in many important respects, more glorious than that of the king or priest. To be counted as the Great King’s intimate counsellor is arguably a greater role than that of an administrator in His House or of that of the king who reigns under Him.
The husbandry of the priest is not so much his own, as another’s. It is God’s role as Husband that the priest must administer. The conducting of God’s side of the marital relationship with His people is entrusted in a large measure to the priests, as those authorized to act on His behalf. They share in God’s own husbanding task. The priests represent God as the Divine Husband in relationship to His Wife. Given this crucial factor, it should be recognized that it is a sine qua non of the principle forms of priestly ministry that one be the symbol of God in relation to the people. Only a man can exercise the priestly calling of guarding the Bride. Women do have priestly roles (in both the OT and NT), but they can never exercise priesthood in its fullest sense.
Man was created in the image of God. Man was made male and female. For this reason Adam is the head of the human family. The statement of man’s headship is indicative, not merely imperative. Man is the head; he should not merely try to be the head. When humanity sinned it was Adam that God called out to, not Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:9). Adam bore the final responsibility, rather than the serpent or Eve. The curse of death was the curse on Adam, not the curse on Eve. Adam stood by his bride (cf. Genesis 3:6) and failed to protect her from the serpent’s wiles. Adam failed in the role of guarding the bride.
As one given the responsibility of guarding the bride, Adam was a priest. The OT is full of accounts of Satan’s assaults upon the Woman (e.g. Sarai and Pharaoh, Sarah and Abimilech, Rebekah and Abimilech, Israel in Egypt, etc.). The priests were called to guard the Bride from the deceptions of Satan, who wanted to pollute God’s people by leading them into the adultery of idolatry. As those who shared in God’s husbanding task, they also expressed God’s jealous anger on key occasions (e.g. the Levites slaying their brothers in Exodus 32, Phinehas’ zeal in Numbers 25). An interesting article on Joseph’s priestly role in relation to Mary can be found here (towards the bottom of the page).
The woman is created in the image of God and, as such, symbolizes God in an important respect. The notion of the ‘image of God’ is similar to the idea of an emperor’s establishing of an image of himself within a city, as an expression of his authority. God has established humanity as the image of His authority in the world. However, the concept of the image of God is slightly more complex than it might originally appear. Christ is the image of God par excellence (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). He is the great symbol of God’s authority in relationship to the world and all of humanity. Although we partake in Christ’s headship over creation (as members of His Bride, the Church), it is not a headship that is proper to us. No human being can be the image of God in the sense that Christ is.
In addition to the distinct manner in which Christ, as a human being, is the image of God, we must recognize a distinct manner in which the human male is the image of God. The human male is the image of God in relationship to the female in a manner in which the female cannot be the image of God in relationship to the male (1 Corinthians 11:7). Scripture does not merely limit this to the realm of marriage (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3).
We must also recognize other settings in which different dimensions of the image of God come to the fore. Within worship the priest/bishop/pastor must act as the image of God in relationship to the Church as the Bride. In the setting of worship the order of the laity (for we are all ordained in Baptism) is regarded as feminine in relationship to the pastor and elders, who are regarded as masculine. As woman is not the image of God in relation to man, women cannot act in the priestly capacity in relationship to the congregation. To do so is to establish a fundamentally false image of God — an idol. This is to return to our earlier comments regarding the role of the priesthood.
The picture of maleness and femaleness given here is one of ‘asymmetric mutuality’ (as John Frame puts it). Men and women are equal in important senses, but there are also differences between them and a hierarchy in place (patterned after the relationship between Christ and God the Father — 1 Corinthians 11:3).
Paul grounds his teaching on women in the Trinity (1 Corinthians 11:3), the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33) and creation (1 Timothy 2:13-15). The role of women serves to image the internal life of God. It is an order illustrative of grace. It is also consistent with the way that we have been created.
It is important that we recognize that Paul does not base his teaching on the role of women on the cultural norms of his day. The basis upon which Paul develops his teaching on the role of women should call into question the position of anyone who wants to regard his teaching on this subject as culturally relative.
The Bible clearly teaches that man is not independent of woman (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). Man without woman is inglorious; woman without man is headless (1 Corinthians 11:7). No part of the body of humanity can say to another, “I have no need of you”. God is against machismo. The woman is absolutely necessary for humanity’s task in creation, and not merely (nor even, I would argue, primarily) through childbearing.
The manner in which men and women are interdependent goes far beyond the realm of marriage. Part of our problem is that we fail to realize that our genders are not merely social constructions, but penetrate to the core of our identities and shape all of our relationships. To treat human beings as if they were androgynous, neutered beings for all intents and purposes, outside of the context of genital sex, is to fail to understand what our sexuality is about. It is to lose sight of true masculinity and femininity as virtues gained as we participate in certain shared practices, in certain narrative contexts, which serve to develop particular forms of character. The personal narratives of men and women take fundamentally different shapes as a result of their sexuality. This goes far beyond mere biology. The narrative shape of the male story is (very broadly speaking) one of initial union (e.g. with father and mother), separation and reunion (e.g. with his wife). The narrative shape of the female story is (very broadly speaking) one of reception (not a passive reception), adaptation and communion (as Rich Lusk puts it). Leon Podles writes:—
The masculine is a pattern of initial union, separation, and reunion, while the feminine is a maintenance of unity. This pattern is found on the biological level, and even more on the psychological, anthropological, and cultural levels…
This is not to be confused with the Aristotelian view of man as aggressive and woman as passive. Rather, it is to appreciate that the natural condition of humanity is femininity, the state of initial union. The masculine story constitutes a radical break from this initial union, in a manner that the feminine story does not. The masculine story is characterized by leaving father and mother, undergoing initiation ceremonies and other symbolic ceremonial departures from ‘original participation’ in order to arrive at ‘final participation’, being rejoined to the feminine in a new manner.
Studying feminist liturgical texts can be interesting. They often tend to lean towards pantheism. This is not an accident. If God is our Mother, then we live in the divine womb. However, if we focus on God as our Father, a far greater distinction is maintained between the Creator and the creation. Our liturgy, although not intentionally feminist, often has much the same effect. We can sometimes focus primarily on God’s immanence and mute the primary note of His transcendence. The result of this is the feminization of God.
The failure of the Church to clearly articulate initiation rituals that serve to reinforce and shape masculinity (e.g. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc.) has led to this role being usurped by other groups within society. As a result we have masculinity being shaped in unbiblical ways. Masculine violence, machismo, feminization and homosexuality (self-glorification, the denial of the need for the feminine) are key examples of this.
The gospel message proclaimed by many churches leaves little room for a masculine shape to the call to discipleship. Whilst we are all feminine in relationship to God and there is an important sense in which every man must hear the message of the gospel in terms of reception (e.g. ‘receiving Jesus into your heart’), if we are to develop biblical masculinity we must go beyond this. The man especially needs to hear the message of leaving his father and mother to become Christ’s disciple (Luke 14:26-33; women need to hear it too, but for slightly different reasons). The man needs to hear this message because, all too often, in order to become a Christian men are subtly recast as women. The standard of piety is a feminine one. To become a Christian is to surrender your masculinity. The overwhelming focus on a feminine form of piety (particularly seen in many modern hymns and choruses) has led to men becoming disillusioned with the Church. A feminine form of piety has also led to the Church retreating from the more ‘masculine’ public square, into private heart religion. The more ‘masculine’ role of husbanding society has been left to pagans (this, of course, is not to deny that women may legitimately occupy even the highest roles in civil government).
When men play roles within the Church or society, they must do so in a manner that is consistent with the fundamental shape of their engendered narratives. The same is true of women. When women rule in government, or are leaders in business, they fulfil their roles as women, not as men. Every role that we play in society must be coloured by our more fundamental roles as men and women. It is worth observing the manner in which the ministry of the judge Deborah differed from that of male judges. Israel came to her to be judged; she didn’t go to Israel as the male judges did (Judges 4:5). Similar things can be observed concerning Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).
A feminine form of piety has led to the Church retreating from the more ‘masculine’ public square, into private heart religion. The more ‘masculine’ role of husbanding society has been left to pagans.
The ministry is not a profession, but a vocation. No one has a ‘right’ to be a minister. We are called to areas of ministry and we have a duty to obey. Most men will never exercise positions of leadership in the Church either.
Nor is the ministry to be regarded as a ‘privilege’ from which women are barred. The Church is not a merely functional institution; Christian pastors are not like the management in a company. The ministry is God’s gift to the Church as a whole. Christian ministers exercise their calling for the sake of the body. Ordination is not a matter of giving power to a private detached individual. Ministers are servants, symbolizing Christ to His people, for the sake of the people. Christ did not just become man; He became male. His role as the Head can only be symbolized by a man.
The drive towards women ministers has been described as the ‘bitter fruit of clericalization’. By reducing the ministries of the Church to the ministries of the priesthood or eldership, women have been marginalized. The solution to this is to reassert the character of the Church as involving many different ministries. By focusing on authoritative teaching over all other forms of ministry, Reformed churches have often tended to marginalize women.
Much Reformed preaching also emphasizes a prophetic model, over a priestly model. The Reformed preacher is one who hears and explains God’s Word and brings it to the people. However, there has been a tendency to focus on the word as addressed to sinners outside God’s household and to accent the element of denunciation. This is more akin to a prophetic model. A priestly model would focus more on the day to day upbuilding and upkeep of the House of God (His people), rather than upon the condemnation and calling to repentance of sinners outside the house. I believe that we should move more towards a priestly model.
Within the priestly model the teaching is seen as part of the task of husbanding the Bride of Christ (notice the role of the Levites in teaching and judging Israel). The Scriptures are the means by which God exercises His authority in the Church (as N.T. Wright frequently observes). Within the prophetic model this connection is not always so clear. Once we have moved towards a more priestly model, the rationale for the prohibition of women from leadership of the Church becomes more readily apparent. The woman is prohibited from leading the Bride of God in worship (this is the Husband’s role — Christ leads the Church in its worship). The woman is also prohibited from husbanding the Church by teaching authoritatively and exercising Church discipline.
While this approach shows the limitations placed upon the role of women, it also helps us to recognize the existence of teaching roles that woman can play that are not prohibited by Scripture.
The existence of prophetesses (irrespective of whether we would see the role of prophetesses to be merely a charismatic and temporary one) should challenge us to explain the manner in which their role is not contrary to the biblical prohibition on women teaching.
There are special contexts in which the natural differences between men and women are intensified. Within the context of formal worship this is most pronounced. Even inspired prophetesses are not permitted to speak within the context of formal liturgical worship (1 Corinthians 14:26-35). The formal worship of the church takes place when the church gathers together to celebrate covenant renewal in the Lord’s Supper. Such gatherings must be led exclusively by men.
Even the Bible readings must be done by men. We must remember that Scripture sees the act of public reading of the Scriptures to be a particular role to be performed by men set apart for the purpose. We should keep our Bibles closed and submit ourselves to the Word proclaimed. We are not attending a Bible study.
Alongside such meetings, churches are to have many other less formal services in which such gifts as those of prophetesses can be exercised freely. There are to be meetings of sharing, Bible studies, evangelistic meetings, and other such things. In these meetings, the priestly role of the Church’s leadership is not always the most prominent one. I see no problem, in principle, with women theologians leading Bible studies attended by men, provided, of course, that they lead them in a manner appropriate to their sex.
I do not believe, however, that men and women should exercise these roles in equal proportion. Woman leaders in society may not be a bad thing per se, but too many of them is regarded as a curse in Scripture (Isaiah 3:12). The natural difference between the roles of men and women are intensified in special worship; we should never deny these differences outside of the context of worship.
There are numerous biblical examples of women instructing men (e.g. Acts 18:26; 1 Samuel 25:23-35; 2 Samuel 14). Wisdom is depicted as a woman instructing foolish men in the book of Proverbs. Woman can certainly teach men in various ways. We should not allow ourselves to entertain the notion that women are somehow less gifted than men. They just exercise their gifts in different ways and in differing speheres. Many of the most gifted theologians in the Church today are women.
By failing to appreciate the manner in which all our roles are conditioned by our sex, many feminists have sought to be the same as men and have ended up renarrating their personal narratives in a masculine form. They should not be surprised that this process feels painful and unnatural. It also devalues women, but failing to value what corresponds to femininity and striving after the place of men instead. Christian women need to seek to develop biblical femininity in whatever roles they play and not devalue roles that are less ‘masculine’, like the role of a housewife.
The last few weeks have been far less productive than usual. I have been extremely tired for much of the time. My reading has also taken a considerable dip. Last month I reread Wright's The New Testament and the People of God for the second or third time. I read Robert Jenson's On Thinking the Human, Jordan's The Sociology of the Church, Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. I have got about 70 pages into Jesus and the Victory of God and have also started reading Vision: The Scholarly Contributions of Mark Searle to Liturgical Renewal. I have not read a whole lot else. Most of my reading at the moment takes place on the bus to and from work and during my lunch breaks.
Many of my evenings have been occupied with other forms of work. I have had a number of talks to prepare for and when I do have evenings off I usually crash. I expect that things will pick up over the next month or so. Much of my backlog of work has been cleared and I only have a few things to prepare for. I will be spending the last week of this month in Poland visiting friends. I will also get to meet James Jordan for the first time. I will also be able to catch up on some reading during my travels. I want to read Peter Brown's Augustine of Hippo.
I have accepted an unconditional offer from the University of St. Andrews to study there from new year. I will be starting in the second year of a four-year MA course. Somehow or other I will have to find the time to brush up on my Greek and Hebrew.
I expect that I will probably blog something lengthy later on today.
Tomorrow is Ascension Day. It also happens to be the day of the general election here in the UK. Unfortunately, I do not think that the crown rights of Jesus Christ are that high on the agenda of any of the major parties.
I will be following the advice of Alasdair MacIntyre.
Response to Questions on 'Top-Down' Social Change 2
This post concludes my clarifying observations on James Jordan’s argument for top-down social change. I am writing in response to a number of comments that I have received, both online and offline. Dennis Hou’s thoughtful post on the subject is especially deserving of response. The criticisms given by Dennis and others are in the back of my mind as I write these thoughts. However, the thoughts below are not intended as a direct answer to Dennis and others. Rather, they are an attempt to more clearly articulate the position that I hold to, and which I believe Jordan to hold to, on this issue, while taking into account the various considered criticisms that have been presented. I will readily admit that I do not find much in Dennis’ comments to take issue with, excepting, that is, his reading of Jordan. Perhaps his post can be best read as a helpful qualifying corrective to potential misreadings of Jordan’s argument.
Jordan is not arguing that the elite are to be regarded as independent of the masses. Leaders and those under them are mutually constitutive. There is no head apart from the body. No one member can say to another member, “I have no need of you.”
In fact, if we follow biblical teaching on the subject we are led to the conviction that weaker members are absolutely necessary for the body as a whole, and that the members that we deem to be less honourable are the members on which we ought to bestow the greater honour (1 Corinthians 12:22-23). Our Lord formed His Church primarily of the marginalized, the dishonourable, the weak, the poor and the despised. Christ died for the weaker member and all of us should be prepared to lay down our lives to such a member too. The practice of paedobaptism is a constant reminder of the fact that one does not have to be strong to be a full member of the Church. One is reminded of David and his motley band of followers in Adullam’s cave (1 Samuel 22:1-2). Christ identifies with the exiles in the place of death, just as His father David did.
The Bible teaches us that God has chosen ‘the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him’ (James 2:5). God does not see as man sees: He looks at the heart. Any argument that claims that God somehow holds the rich and powerful in higher regard that the poor believer hasn’t even begun to do business with Scripture. I do not believe for a moment that Jordan holds to anything remotely resembling this position.
Jordan is trying to draw our attention to the significance of the role played by the elite, a role in which they are distinguished from the masses. Highlighting the importance of their role need not imply the despising of those who do not belong to the elite. Placing an emphasis on reaching fathers as heads of families need not imply a disregarding of mothers and children, nor need an appreciation of the importance of seeking to particularly reach the heads of nations imply a lack of concern for those who are subject to them.
What is the role of the elite? The elite do not exist for their own sake (no one does). The elite are called to be God’s servants, with a particular task to perform. Those who are the greatest must be the servants of all. God has put a lot into their hands and they will be called to give stricter account for what they have done. God is ready to uphold the cause of the widow, the orphan and the alien against them. The role of the elite is to protect, uphold, guide and exercise God’s authority over the masses. If they cause one of God’s little ones to sin it would be better for them if they had millstones placed around their necks and were cast into the sea.
God will resist a proud elite. An elite that exalts itself and lords over the masses will be judged. God can easily accomplish His purposes irrespective of the will of such an elite; not even the hand of the king can stop the hand of the sovereign Creator. In the gospels and Acts we see a perfect example of the manner in which God can confound the elite and judge the false shepherds of His people. God will raise up true shepherds to replace false ones.
When we understand the role of the elite we will appreciate why it is important to aim for the head when seeking to bring about reformation. The reformation of the whole body must always be our goal; we cannot just satisfy ourselves with a reformation of the elite. Nevertheless, if we are to bring about the reformation of the whole body we must pay particular attention to reaching the head.
Many elites operate in terms of a pagan ethic that exalts the solitary hero, who successfully advances himself over others. Grasping and retaining power is the most important thing. Our Lord manifested a form of ethic that runs opposite to the heroic ethic that is followed by many leaders today.
Jesus operated in terms of a servant ethic. True greatness is found not in self-serving power-grasping, but in self-sacrificing love. When Jesus had the opportunity to grasp at power and control, He did not do so. Rather than lord it over the people of God, He chose to lay down His life for them.
When the Church seeks to change a given society, she cannot content herself with merely changing those who hold the reins of power. This is not enough. The Church must also change the very way in which power is conceived of. All too often the Church has permitted itself to be domesticated by the powers that be.
It is the symbol of the cross that stands against all such attempts to tame the gospel. The cross speaks of the confrontation between the powers of this world and the Lord of glory they crucified. It speaks of two fundamentally incompatible views of the exercise of authority. The cross teaches us that, if we would sit one the right and left of Christ in His kingdom, we must also occupy those positions at Calvary. Any attempt to justify an elite’s lording over the masses will involve a dangerous muting of the message of the cross. The elite are called to submit themselves to the lowly Messiah and follow His example.
I have argued in the past that, in the new covenant, we still have a special priesthood. I firmly believe that such a position has a strong biblical foundation. Within the Church we have those who represent and symbolize the authority of the Bridegroom over the Bride. I will quite possibly be posting more on this subject sometime in the next couple of days (in a post dealing with the subject of the role of women), so I won’t go into a great deal of depth on the issue here.
Some might claim that such a position undermines the equal priesthood of all the baptized. Yes, it does. The Bible never teaches that all Christians are priests in exactly the same manner. All the baptized are members of a royal priesthood, but this royal priesthood is differentiated. Does this mean that members of the special (or servant) priesthood have more access than God than those who are not? No, I don’t think so. The privilege of access to God is not so much about our being priests as about our being members of the Bride. Every member of the Church from the smallest child should be permitted to come to the Table of our Lord and enjoy His presence there. This privilege is given in Baptism.
The fact that we all enjoy equal access to the Bridegroom, now that Christ has purified us as His Bride, ought to remind us that the servant priesthood do not stand as intermediaries between the Bride and the Bridegroom, maintaining a distance between the two. Quite the opposite. The special priesthood serve to symbolize and represent the Bridegroom’s presence and authority to the Bride. They are called to act on behalf of the Bridegroom to protect the Bride and ensure that she does not become defiled.
Arguing for the existence of a special priesthood is not to deny the existence of a general priesthood. Every person becomes a priest in Baptism. However, the priesthood of the laity must always be exercised under the authority of the special priesthood, who symbolize and represent the authority of the Bridegroom. In the creation order, mankind was placed in the garden as an appointed priesthood. However, Eve’s priestly activity had to be carried out with an appreciation that Adam was her appointed head. She was to participate fully humanity’s task of husbandry in relation to the creation. However, she was not to forget that Adam was her husband, the one who had been committed with the task of guarding her. Those of us who belong to the order of the laity are in much the same position as Eve.
Priestly roles are also played within society by governments, intellectuals, educators and others. The priestly role of such people is that of maintaining boundaries (political, ideological, cultural, economic, legal, etc.) within society. These people are called to exercise the task of husbandry over society. Many today would like to deny the existence of such a group. They try to fool themselves into believing that society does not need people to exercise this role of husbandry and that we can accomplish the reformation of society while safely ignoring any who play this role. Jordan is arguing that the task of societal transformation cannot be accomplished if we fail to address such people or provide true replacements for them.
Jordan places social hierarchy firmly in the context of mutual service. Those who might question my reading of Jordan on this point will find it supported by Jordan’s comments in such places as this.
A top-down understanding of authority is perfectly compatible with a commitment to servant leadership. Just because the shepherd is called to lay down his life for the sheep does not mean that he is not over the sheep in some manner or other. An openly hierarchical society is far more suited to the development of a servant ethic than an egalitarian society is.
Jordan is attacking the egalitarian tendencies of Presbyterian and Baptist thought. Within an Episcopalian structure there can be less of an emphasis upon ‘equality’ and more of an emphasis on ‘mutuality’. Episcopalianism, with its unapologetically hierarchical structure, recognizes that there are different stations in life and in the Church. They seek to maintain an elite and groom future elites (the formation of an elite also generally follows a top-down pattern — those who are in a higher station groom people below them to be raised up in time). By resisting the egalitarian and radical democratic ideals of every individual being on the same plane, they stop the growth of envy. We are not all in a rat race, seeking to get to the top of the ladder. Rather, in a hierarchical society, everyone has their particular station in life, which they are called to be faithful to.
Some are naturally situated in a higher station of life than others. However, they are not to presume that they are somehow morally better or more valuable in God’s sight than everyone else. Rather, they must live up to the relationship that they are in with the rest of the social body and serve the other members. Those who occupy a lower station in life are not to envy those who rule over them, but thank God for the manner in which their rulers free them to exercise their own particular callings faithfully. In a hierarchical structure, ambition is far less likely to degenerate into resentment and envy.
The practices of the Church should curb the development of proud elites. The elite are called to sit down at the same table as the poor, and not to arrogate all the best seats themselves. In the Church the rich man is called to rejoice in his humiliation and the poor man in his exaltation (James 1:9-10). The elite are constantly reminded of the character of true husbandry, as seen in our Lord.
In a society infected by egalitarian thinking, those who rise to a high level in society are more at risk of thinking of themselves as morally better than others and despising those who occupy lower stations. They are more likely to be the object of other people’s envy and have others wishing to pull them down.
In egalitarian society, where there is not the same prizing of excellence that exists in elitist and hierarchical societies, those who are in leadership positions will often have others trying to undermine their leadership, rather than serving them. In fact, in a society infected by egalitarianism, those who rise to leadership will often do so by mere force of personality and will exercise tyrannical leadership over those below them (who are trying to gain power themselves).
Recognizing our differentiated callings is important. We are not all called to serve God and each other in the same manner. When we recognize the existence of different stations in life (and, hence, an elite) we will realize that not everyone is called to try to get to the top of the pile. Rather, we are all called to live faithfully in our own particular station in life. The time may come when this faithfulness is noticed and we will be set apart for a higher station, but we do not take this exaltation to be something that we are entitled to.
As egalitarianism infects our society the servant ethic of leadership, the ethic that our Lord teaches us, is lost. In a society affected by egalitarian ways of viewing the world, leadership is seen as something to be competed for and grasped. Those who possess it are to be envied and detested. In a hierarchical society, no calling need be morally devalued, even if there is little exercise of power associated with it. Those who get into positions of power do not get there by grasping, but by careful training and cultivation of the requisite character for the station, as they submit to those who are grooming them for it.
In such a society we will be ruled by our betters (not morally better, but better fitted for that particular task). We will all benefit as a result. Our leaders will not be those who have ruthlessly fought to gain their positions and have successful learnt to crush everyone in their path in the process. Rather, they will be people who have learnt to submit themselves to the training of character and inculcation of excellence provided by the elite. In the process they will have learnt a servant ethic as opposed to the ‘heroic ethic’ of self-serving ambition and self-advancement. Our leaders will be great as a result of how they serve us, rather than as a result of how successfully they grasp power for themselves.