Ethnic and Gender Diversity in Pastoral Appointments

Adrian has now come up with a subject which I would like to take up. He reports on John Piper’s message about Ethnic Diversity and “Affirmative Action” for Pastoral Appointments.

Affirmative action is of course a controversial issue, and I agree with Adrian in being unsure about Piper’s strategy here while applauding his goal of ethnic diversity in his church leadership team. Also, in general I agree with Adrian’s comments that it is better to appoint pastoral staff from within one’s own church than from outside. Sadly perhaps, that is not the usual practice in my Church of England; indeed the church will consider for ordination only those who are prepared to serve in congregations other than the one they are leaving.

Holy Trinity Brompton is a very rare exception in that Nicky Gumbel was originally an ordinary church member, then a curate (assistant pastor), and is now the vicar (senior pastor) there, apparently without ever serving at any other church; but then HTB, the home of the Alpha Course, is an exceptional church in many ways.

Having said that, my own congregation appointed from outside, according to the normal Church of England procedures, a vicar from an ethnic minority, a Palestinian Arab. This was not because of any affirmative action but because he was the best qualified candidate, and has proved an excellent pastor. But if we had looked to our own congregation we would never have chosen an ethnic minority person, because we have rather few in our church – although more than the 2.6% non-white population of our parish according to the 2001 census statistics. Also we probably would not have found among ourselves such a good leader, certainly not someone with the same training and experience.

But unfortunately John Piper’s appeal for diversity in leadership appointments looks rather hollow to me because it applies only to race and not to gender, although the arguments he makes for racial diversity apply just as much to gender diversity. I wonder how he would react to the following adapted version of his own reasons for pursuing ethnic diversity as an argument for gender diversity in the pastoral ministry:

  1. It illustrates more clearly the truth that God created male and female in his own image (Genesis 1:27).
  2. It displays more visibly the truth that Jesus is not a male deity, but is the Lord of both genders.
  3. It demonstrates more clearly the blood-bought destiny of the church to be those “redeemed from mankind (anthropoi, gender generic) as firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4).
  4. It exhibits more compellingly the aim and power of the cross of Christ to “reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16).
  5. It expresses more forcefully the work of the Spirit to unite us in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

(Quotations from ESV, so Piper can’t complain. I note that Ephesians 2:16 is primarily about the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, a religious matter, and so to apply it to gender is stretching it no more than to apply it to race.)

Yes, the church in New Testament times discriminated against women, because the first believers, like many conservative Christians today, brought the presuppositions from their partly patriarchal society into their church. For similar reasons slavery was not explicitly condemned in the New Testament (although of course slavery at that time was not linked to race as it was in 18th-19th century America). And there are significant Christian movements in the USA today which support not only the patriarchal system under which women are oppressed but also slavery. Piper, to his credit, does not seem to be advocating slavery, and certainly not racism. But he needs to realise that the same approach to interpreting the Bible which allows most modern evangelicals to condemn slavery (indeed it was evangelicals like William Wilberforce who led the campaign to end the slave trade 200 years ago this year) also implies condemnation of the patriarchal system and an end to discrimination against women in pastoral appointments.

Not much to say

Things have been quiet here for no particular reason – indeed so quiet that Lingamish has been able to catch up with me in the Technorati blog rankings. Should I do something about that? Actually the rankings seem so arbitrary that I don’t think I’ll bother. I have been quiet partly because I have actually being working quite hard for a change, and had a nasty cold last week.

But also I have been quiet because not so many interesting topics have come up recently. For this perhaps I could blame Adrian; as I predicted, his now almost commentless blog is not nearly as interesting as it used to be, and no longer provides me with plenty of material for posts here. But then his first post when he returned was wise advice on not blogging for the sake of it but only when we have something worthwhile to say. So perhaps I should be thanking rather than blaming him.

Well, as I don’t really have anything worthwhile to say now, I will leave it there except to quickly mention two things. I will be away on a business trip from 31st January to 17th February, and so this blog will probably continue to be quiet for that time. I am also planning to move this blog to a subdirectory of my own website, which I am currently moving to a new provider, and this means I will also be moving to the WordPress blogging software. I’m not yet sure when this will happen, maybe not until after my trip, so watch this space for further announcements.

Our Parent, who art in heaven?

TheoBlogian Mike Swalm has started an interesting series In Our Image: The Language of Father and Divine Gender. This takes up among other things some of the issues which I raised here recently, about Driscoll’s God and Molly’s paradigm shift.

In a comment on Part One of TheoBlogian’s series Odysseus wrote:

I don’t know for certain, as I have not double and triple checked the reference, but I was told that in Aramaic, ‘Our Father’ can be translated in a variety of ways, including ‘Our Father/Mother’.

I’m not sure about the Aramaic either, but I know that the Greek word πατήρ pater translated “father” is not always explicitly male. Look for example at Hebrews 11:23, where the Greek literally refers to Moses’ “fathers” (the plural of πατήρ pater), but almost all English translations, even back to KJV and including the very literal Young and Darby versions, render “parents”.

If Moses’ “fathers” were not necessarily male, then Jesus’ Father was not necessarily male. Indeed, we more or less know that he was not, because he has no distinguishing body parts, and men and women are equally made in his image – as I argued in my post on Driscoll’s God.

So, do we need to translate πατήρ pater, the more or less new name which Jesus gave to God, as “Father”? Well, it is not a bad translation or a mistranslation. But I would suggest that “Parent”, while arguably not very elegant, would be just as accurate as a translation. For there is no justification for insisting on a specifically gendered word here.

Adrian is back

As I was blogging about Adrian’s blog being dormant, Adrian must already have been preparing the posts with which his blog woke up again. In part five of his personal story he tells how he learned an important lesson, and one which I have been learning afresh in recent months: what is important for us in God’s sight is not what we do for him, but what we are, his children who worship him. In another post Adrian wonders if we should write less and think more. Indeed it is important that we don’t rush into writing without thinking, not only of the accuracy of what we write but also of whether writing it is helpful for building up the body of Christ.

Molly's paradigm shift

Molly writes, in a post at Adventures of Mercy, about her move from a complementarian or patriarchal view of gender relationships to an egalitarian one. This has been a real and difficult change of outlook for her. In a comment on her own post she writes:

I cannot begin to tell you what it has been like for me…just like a death…but yet I have felt like the One stirring up the questions in my heart was not my own rebellion, but Jesus, and most of it coming straight from Scripture. I had been so trained to read Scripture from a patriarchal perspective that I was unable to see it any other way without Divine intervention. Well, it’s either Divine or I’m totally decieved, one or the other, which is something I pray for (for truth and not deception) daily!

Molly certainly has a good point here about “Divine intervention”.

Very often patterns of thinking about the teaching of the Bible become very deeply ingrained, and to change them requires what is technically called a paradigm shift. Sometimes people are able to make such paradigm shifts when presented with overwhelming evidence, but this is rather rare. Even in science, which is supposed to be objective, it is rare for established scholars to shift their personal paradigms to accept a completely new theory; the paradigm shifts which have occurred have more commonly been spread over decades, as the older generation has been gradually replaced by new scholars accepting the new theory.

But with theological understanding there is also a spiritual element. I think most of us would accept this when we consider the personal paradigm shift required for someone to become a Christian. For those with no Christian background this is one of the greatest paradigm shifts that could be made. And it is one which people are rarely persuaded to make by overwhelming logical arguments, although more commonly perhaps they are prompted to shift by evidence they see for themselves of God’s activity. But it is not without good reason that most Christians hold that this paradigm shift can only be made with the help of the Holy Spirit, whose work includes opening the unbeliever’s heart to God’s truth. As the apostle Paul wrote:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

(2 Corinthians 4:3-4, TNIV)

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

(2 Corinthians 3:16, TNIV)

Now the paradigm shift which Molly made is small compared with that of becoming a Christian. Nevertheless, I’m sure she is right to attribute it to “Divine intervention”. When “the god of this age” has lost complete control of someone to the true God, he tries every trick in the book to get back into their lives to deceive them and make them ineffective as Christians. Galatians 3:1 is surely a biblical example of this. I know that he has done this kind of thing in many ways in my own life; I am still struggling in some of these areas, and there may be others which I am not yet aware of.

It seems to me that one of Satan’s current strategies to deceive Christians and make them ineffective is… well, I won’t say complementarianism in general, but I will suggest that it is the strident complementarianism or patriarchalism which seems so strong in the USA at the moment, although not so much here in the UK except perhaps in circles connected with Adrian’s (currently dormant) blog.

This kind of stridency seems to go hand in hand with a lack of concern for people and how they will react. In this case, an insistence on patriarchy is surely causing many, men as well as women, to turn away from the Christian faith, potentially to their eternal ruin. But mention this to a strident complementarian, and the response is likely to be that God’s truth is more important than whether people are saved or not. Well, God’s truth is important, but there is no Christian obligation to present it in an unattractive way. I’m not suggesting that complementarians conceal their beliefs, but is there a good reason why they don’t stop being contentious about this issue and instead put their efforts into positive preaching about the great blessings in the Gospel?

In fact the not so good reason for this that I am discerning is that these people have fallen for Satan’s deceitful schemes. Indeed this seems to be part of his worldwide strategy for stirring up trouble by encouraging intolerant and angry fundamentalism among followers of every religion, including atheism. In this strategy 9/11 was a major success, not so much for the original attack as for the over-reaction which followed, including the invasion of Iraq which has simply encouraged all kinds of fundamentalism. But I am straying too far from the subject of this post!

So, how can people be encouraged to abandon strident complementarianism, or fundamentalism of any kind? It seems to me that presenting rational arguments to such people, as I have been doing here, at Better Bibles Blog, on Adrian’s blog etc, is about as effective as bashing my head against a brick wall. But maybe Molly’s paradigm shift shows us a better way. If, as she testifies, it took “Divine intervention” to change her from a complementarian to an egalitarian, then we should, instead of trying to win people by arguments, be praying that God will intervene in their lives and show them his truth. And at the same time we should allow him to intervene in our lives as well and show to us his truth, which may not be exactly what we have been trying to promote with our arguments.

Meanwhile, concerning the complementarian vision of male leadership, Corrie wrote this in a later comment on this same Adventures of Mercy post:

Christ, Himself, turned the leadership paradigm on its head when he told leaders not to be like the heathen but to be like Him, someone who gets on His knees to serve and not someone who expects to be served.

But this aspect of the Christian paradigm is so often ignored by those who believe that leadership is male, especially by men who seem to expect women to be their servants. If these men aspire to being leaders in the home or in the church, they should take to heart Jesus’ own words:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

(Mark 10:42-45, TNIV)

Now it is surely another part of Satan’s strategy to pervert God’s originally designed concept of leadership into the kind of “lording it” which Jesus rejects here. Indeed this is a very ancient strategy which goes back at least to the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 8:11-18), and probably to the Fall. But this is an issue on which the Bible seems to be unanimous. So, rather than a head-on challenge on the basic complementarian position, it is perhaps a more productive strategy in countering strident complementarians to challenge them with this biblical view of leadership. Maybe men who realise that leadership in the family or in the church requires them to act as slaves, even to give up their lives, will no longer be so eager to claim this leadership for themselves and deny it to women!

Smenita is back

The infamous word “smenita” is back! A few months ago this word was regularly appearing as a word verification word for Blogger comments, and was causing all sorts of problems largely because it was not being recognised. Indeed at least one whole blog, belonging to my friend Lingamish, was devoted to the study of Smenita. But then she seemed to disappear; at least, hardly anyone seems to have blogged about her for months, until one hour ago. Well, at least Crazy Mrs Nancy’s post confirms to me that it is not just me seeing Smenita again.

Smenita’s reappearance has been in the comment forms for both this blog and Better Bibles Blog. She reappeared just after Blogger had been down for several hours; perhaps they had to restore an old version of some software. But Smenita doesn’t seem to be the problem she used to be. In the past when I typed in her name Blogger didn’t recognise it, and gave it to me again for word verification. Now Blogger does recognise “smenita” and accept the comment, and repeats the same word verification.

I wonder how long Smenita will be around this time?

Driscoll's God: only metaphorically Father?

Wayne, Henry and I myself have all had a few things to say about Mark Driscoll’s article Theological reasons for why Mars Hill preaches out of the ESV. But I want to express my agreement with him on part of what he writes, near the end:

Theologically speaking, God does not have a biological gender because God is Spirit, without physical anatomy (John 4:24), and is therefore not a man (Numbers 23:19). In using the word “He,” the Bible is not saying that God is merely a man, but rather that God is a unique person who reveals Himself with terms such as “Father” when speaking about Himself. … we acknowledge that Scripture does infrequently refer to God in terms that are more feminine in nature, such as a hen who cares for her chicks (Matthew 23:37). Nonetheless, such language is both infrequent and metaphorical because God is no more a woman than God is a chicken.

This is a good argument (although of course the word “He” is in translations rather than the original). But since, as Driscoll agrees, God is not a man, God is no more a man than God is a chicken. Therefore we must say that masculine language about God, just like feminine language about him, is metaphorical. Thus, by Driscoll’s own argument, God is only metaphorically Father. Indeed, Driscoll seems to confirm that this is his view with the following:

John Calvin said that God uses terms such as “Father” to speak to us in baby talk, much like a parent uses words that their young child can understand in order to effectively communicate with them.

Now I have no problem at all with the statement that God is only metaphorically Father. But I wonder how acceptable this position would be among the Reformed theologians and preachers with whom Driscoll keeps company. For the implication of this being only a metaphor is that it is not an attribute of God, not a part of his actual being, but only a convenient way of talking about him. The Trinity is no longer “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, but “One who is like a father, One who is like a son, and …”. How acceptable is that kind of reformulation?

Also, if there is no essential way in which God is male or masculine, there is also no way in which human males resemble him more closely than human females do. Indeed this is clear from Genesis 1:27, from the very words “male and female” which (as Henry points out) Driscoll wrongly accuses some translations of omitting.

At this point Driscoll’s position is completely opposite to that of Philip Lancaster, author of Family Man, Family Leader, as quoted at Adventures of Mercy (see also here and here, thanks again to Henry for these links, which I found only as I was well into writing this post):

God is masculine. He is not feminine. He is not an androgyny, a mixture of masculine and feminine.

Lancaster seems to base his generally complementarian teaching about the family on this position. Well, at least he is consistent, but his position does not seem to be the theologically orthodox one, at least if the following from Wikipedia (quoted here) is reliable:

Christianity does not regard the omnipotent God as being male, God the Father is genderless

Driscoll, however, is orthodox on this point:

God does not have a biological gender

but his logic is faulty. In the same article he writes:

Scripture states that God made us “male and female” (for example, Genesis 1:27). Consequently, in God’s created order, there is both equality between men and women (because both are His image-bearers) and distinction (because men and women have differing roles).

Indeed this equality is a consequence of this scripture. But the distinction is not a consequence. Indeed, while “differing roles” may not be contradicted by a shared image of God (and differing gender roles in reproduction are indisputable), the kind of view which Lancaster has, in which leadership is a male attribute, is certainly contradicted by Genesis 1:27.

The previously mentioned Wikipedia article also quotes the radical feminist Mary Daly:

If God is male, then the male is God.

Lancaster’s arguments seem to confirm this. I am glad that Driscoll avoids going down this wrong road. But I fear for some of his complementarian friends. Lancaster already seems to have moved into ideas contradicted by Scripture and rejected as unorthodox. But it seems that these wrong ideas are the only ones logically compatible with complementarianism. So will other complementarians follow? Driscoll manages to be orthodox and a complementarian only because he doesn’t notice that this is a contradiction at the heart of his theology.

Mars Hill Church: on a different planet?

In some ways I admire the controversial preacher Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle. I admire him for his no-nonsense attitude and refusal to conform to the religious expectations of others. But in other ways he infuriates me.

And he has done so again, not so much with his church’s decision to use the ESV Bible as with his allegedly theological reasons for this. It is clear that he simply hasn’t got a clue what he is talking about on the subject of language and translation.

For example, he writes:

when we change the words of Scripture we are changing the meaning of Scripture.

What does he mean here by “the words of Scripture”? If he is referring to the inspired words of the original text, then no one is suggesting a change. But probably he is referring to a translation. If we change a translation, the change may be neutral as far as the meaning is concerned; or perhaps we are indeed changing its meaning. But if the old translation was not correct (or had become incorrect over time because of language change), a change should be a change for the better, the correction of an error. And of course every translation claims to be correct where others were wrong. So this is no argument for any one translation over any other. Indeed if Driscoll really believes this argument he should go back to the King James Version or earlier, on the basis that every new translation is “changing the meaning of Scripture”.

Then he writes:

Romans 3:24 is one of many places where “justification” is spoken of in the original text of Scripture.

I have looked at the original text (well, a scholarly edition of the Greek text) of Romans 3:24 and cannot find the word “justification” there. There are no English words, only Greek ones. In fact this word is not in any of the translations Driscoll quotes, but I guess he is referring to the word “justified”. What I do find in the Greek text is the concept “justification”, expressed in a Greek word. The task of a translator is to find an appropriate way of expressing this concept in a target language like English. That may be with an individual word like “justified”. The problem is that many people today either do not understand this word or misunderstand it (perhaps something to do with text layout!), and so some translators choose a different way of expressing the word. Thus for example the NLT translators express the same concept in the word “God… declares that we are righteous”. Doesn’t that mean exactly the same thing? Who is to say that “justify” is a correct translation and “declare righteous” is not? Of course there might be a subtle theological distinction to be made here, but that is not the point made by Driscoll, who is not known for subtlety. In fact he seems to base his preference either on “justify” being one word rather than two, or else that the choice of King James is as unchangeable as the decrees of the kings of the Medes and the Persians.

Then, on Psalm 8:4, Driscoll writes:

The original text simply says “man,” yet some translations take the liberty to deviate from that markedly:

– and among the alternatives he rejects is “humans”. What, does Driscoll really believe that the word “man” is in the original text, and not a Hebrew word? What planet is he on? In fact there are two different Hebrew words rendered “man” in ESV, ‘enosh with a collective meaning in the first line and ‘adam in the second line. Both of these words can legitimately be translated either “man” (if understood as gender generic) or “human beings”. Why is one right and the other wrong?

I suppose that Mars Hill church is named after the forum in Athens (more correctly the Areopagus, but called “Mars’ hill” in Acts 17:22 KJV although by Paul’s time it did not meet on the hill of that name) in which Paul debated his Christian faith with Greek philosophers. But he could only debate with them, and start the process of Christianising Greek thought, because he spoke a common language with them. However, Driscoll seems to repudiate the idea of speaking a common language with the huge majority of unbelievers in his city, but prefers, even when “writing an article for a non-Christian newspaper”, to retreat into Christian jargon which the readers, even the newspaper editor, don’t understand.

By cutting himself off with a language barrier from most of the people of this earth, Driscoll seems to be positioning himself and his church not so much on Mars Hill as on the planet Mars.